The Northeastern state of Mizoram has contributed much to the cause of Indian football in recent years. So much so, that Mizoram is now considered to be one of the hubs of the beautiful game in the country.
Indeed, it was a fairytale story, when a small club – the only club from the state to play in the I-League in Aizawl FC – became champions in the 2016-17 seasons. That win really helped galvanise Mizo football and inspired a number of younger players to keep playing and make their name in Indian football.
One such name, currently making his name in the big league is Churchill Brothers’ latest acquisition upfront Lalkhawpuimawia. Better known amongst his teammates as Mapuia, the 27-year-old has set the 2019-20 season of the I-League ablaze in his very first match, netting two in Churchill Brothers’ 3-0 triumph over former champions Punjab FC.
“You never really think that you’ll have such a great start when you move to a new club. But this was a really good start for me, scoring two goals right away in my first game,” Mapuia said.
“But this is just the start of the season, and we can’t really rest on one good performance. We need to use this performance as a launch-pad and push forward,” he said.
A late transition
Growing up in the Champai district of Mizoram, a young Mapuia would often be seen dribbling his way around the streets or small fields of his village. Although he hails from a family of farmers, all this youngster dreamt of doing was playing the beautiful game for a living.
Having impressed the local football aficionados in the Champai district, Mapuia made move to Aizawl city, where he joined Chanmari West FC. Having played in the Mizoram Premier League for five seasons, Mapuia went on to sign for Chhinga Veng FC, and subsequently for Aizawl FC.
While Mapuia may be an established striker in the I-League now, he did not always start off in that position. In fact, he had started off as a left-back, back in his MPL days. However, it was soon suggested to him that his talents could be of more use upfront, and Mapuia soon began to flourish in his new role.
“Playing as a striker is very different from playing as a fullback,” quipped Mapuia. “But it’s not rocket science if you ask me.”
“All you need to do is put your mind to it, and pay attention to the finer details of on and off the ball movement. Once you do that, it’s not very difficult to switch positions,” he continued.
And success soon followed
In fact, it was in his last two seasons in the MPL, that Mapuia won the title twice – once with Chhinga Veng FC, and once with Aizawl FC.
Last season, Mapuia played a full campaign at Aizawl FC as a striker and finished as the joint third-highest Indian goalscorer with six goals. However, the 27-year-old believes that he has progressed further, and now harbours hopes of making it to the Indian National Team.
“Of course, you always have the dream of playing in the India colours one day. Coach Igor Stimac’s words before the start of the season really motivated me a lot, that if I do perform well, I could play for the country too,” he said.
However, National Team spots come at a premium, and Mapuia is well aware of that fact. “There are a number of good strikers in India, and the competition to get into the team is tough, no matter what the experts say. Getting into the National Team would require a lot of hard work,” he said.
“But I do feel that I have it in me to make it there one day, and I do get the chance, I’ll surely give it my all and try to perform to the best of my abilities.”
For now, however, Mapuia has his sights set on winning the I-League title with Churchill Brothers.
“I’ve won two MPLs, but I’d like to win my first I-League title for Churchill now. We are completely focused on that. Of course, I want to score as many goals as possible – more than last season, hopefully. But I believe that winning the league is more important than personal goals,” Mapuia rounded off.