This is the best season I’ve had so far- NorthEast United midfielder Puitea
Written by: AIFF-The All India Football Federation
The Mizo youngster opened up about his backstory, his time with Bethlehem Veng and his recent season with NorthEast United.
Mizoram has become a hotbed of plucky young footballers over the years. The state has already provided the country with top talents like Jeje Lalpekhlua, Lalruatthara, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Jerry Lalrinzuala, and many more.
From the land of the hills, comes another young boy who has turned all heads this season. Lalthathanga Khawlhring, better known as Puitea has had an exceptional display in the Hero Indian Super League 2018-19 season.
“When I made the switch to NorthEast United FC, I had a personal goal – winning at least three Emerging Player of the Match awards,” said the 21-year-old.
Puitea has managed to achieve that and a couple of more accolades – one Winning Pass of the Match, and one Hero of the Match awards.
“I hadn’t really thought of anything more than the Emerging Player awards. Anything else was just a bonus. But getting the Hero of the Match award was a really big deal for me,” he said.
NorthEast United FC Head Coach Eelco Schattorie has shown a propensity to trust youngsters this season, and Puitea is a prime example of his philosophy that promising yet inexperienced talents can also win matches.
“He is a really good coach. I have learnt a lot about football tactics over the course of the season from Eelco Sir,” said Puitea. “Never before have I had to process so much data as a preparation for a match, and that has really helped me improve my game. I can honestly say that this is the best season I’ve had so far.”
THE KID WHO ROSE FROM BETHLEHEM
Puitea had always shown his aptitude for the ‘beautiful game,’ and got had even played amateur football for Mizoram Police back in his school days. From there on, the scrawny young kid was given his first professional contract at Bethlehem Vengthlang for the 2014 Mizoram Premier League season.
Coming from a humble family where his father earns his daily bread as a driver, and his mother as ananganwadi worker, this contract was a rather big deal for the teenager.
“Financially, it was huge for my family. My parents don’t earn much, and I remember that after I got this contract, we all went out to buy clothes and many different things for everyone,” he said.
“Even now, I am supporting them. I am really happy that football has allowed me to take care of my family. I have two siblings as well, a brother and a sister, who is studying in college now,” said Puitea.
However, the comforts of a professional contract did not deter the young lad, who went on to win the ‘Midfielder of the Season Award’ at the age of 16 in the 2014 Mizoram Premier League, scoring nine goals from 14 matches.
“Coach Sanga was my first trainer at the professional level, and he helped me improve a lot. He identified me as a talented footballer, and gave me that breakthrough, which I am really thankful for,” said Puitea.
THE HARD DAYS AND NIGHTS
After Bethlehem, Puitea was given an opportunity to join the DSL Shivajians-Liverpool Academy, his first move out of his home state.
While he learnt a lot under the then DSK Coach Dave Rogers, the teenager had a difficult time away from his loved ones.
“Everything was new to me, and I personally took some time to adjust to things. the first couple of months, I used to call my mother every night and cry over the phone,” he said. “But she told me to pray, believe and try for the best, and that is exactly what I did.”
During his time at DSK, Puitea found a friend in current Chennaiyin FC centre-back Zotea Ralte, who helped him out. Once the youngster found his footing, it did not take him long to graduate from the DSK Academy and move to the senior team.
AN AIZAWL-BOY THROUGH AND THROUGH
The boy who longed to return to his loved ones back in Aizawl finally had the chance of going back to his home state, when he got an offer from Aizawl FC, before making the move to NorthEast United FC.
“It’s great to play in these parts as we get a lot of fans supporting us from the stands,” said Puitea. “It’s not just about filling up the stands here. Unlike other parts of the country, the fans in Mizoram don’t just come to support a particular club. They know all nitty gritty about the player, coaches, tactics – everything you can think of,” he maintained.
In the 2018-19 Hero Indian Super League, he had a stellar season at NEUFC registering most passes (606) in the entire season, then established stars like Udanta Singh (598), Sunil Chhetri (586), or Pronay Halder (500).
As their Hero Super Cup encounter quarterfinal encounter against two-time ISL champions Chennaiyin FC approaches, Puitea could well turn out to be a vital cog in the Highlanders’ machinery.
Published: Sat Apr 06, 2019 11:07 PM IST