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In Pune, a Mizo sniper calls the shots
At 19, William Lalnunfela is arguably India's hottest junior footballer. Top-scorer in the under-20 I-League for the second year running, the Pune FC striker says he scores all those goals so that he can give his parents a good life in their old age
He is coy, soft spoken and often struggles with words to express himself. But put him on a football field - the rival penalty area, to be precise - and William Lalnunfela's boots do all the talking.
As top scorer in the recently concluded under-20 I-League, which his team Pune FC won for the second season running, the nineteen-year-old junior footballer from Mizoram is drafting an impressive CV for himself. At Pune FC for two seasons now, the lanky striker from Mizoram has scored seven times this season. This adds to his feat of last season where he had top-scored for PFC. But Lalnunfela is not swayed by his laurels. He knows well that the journey has just begun and the road ahead is tough.
Born to a family of carpenters in Kolasib, a small town in Mizoram, Lalnunfela was like any other youngster in his neighbourhood. He took to playing football, the most popular sport of the area at the age of twelve. But it could have been a totally different story. Lalnunfela actually started off as a keeper for a couple of matches, a position which he disliked and in a fit of pique, decided to play as striker. He turned out for local club Pui Pui for two seasons and his capabilities in the frontline won him a berth in Vengthar VC, the under-16 village team.
It was during the Red Ribbon inter-village football tournament that he was noticed by Pune FC talent scouts and was among the lucky three selected from Mizoram for advanced training at Pune FC with the under-19 team.
Former Tata Football Academy head coach Ranjan Chowdhury, and currently head of youth development at Pune FC, who spotted Lalnunfela as a 17-year-old in Mizoram is optimistic. "He is certainly a very talented player. Though he started out late in a span of two years at Pune FC he has become very popular in Indian football. He is a hardworking boy and I am confident that very soon he will play for a big club in India, " says Chowdhury.
"He has a good build and as striker he has a great sense of goalscoring and knows how to create space for himself. Besides he has great temperament. All he needs is to improve on the clincial side, " says the astute Chowdhury.
Chirag Tanna, head operations at Pune FC, also acknowledges the youngster's talent. "It isn't often that you have someone as the top scorer in the U-20 I-League for two years straight. William is a talented young player, and we hope that he can replicate what he has done with the junior team with the senior team, " says the official.
"The transition to the senior team is not an easy one but if he continues to work hard there is no reason why he cannot have a long and successful career with Pune FC, " says Tanna. On whether he could be loaned out, Tanna isn't sure yet. "If we need to loan him out, we will discuss this with him, the coach and the player, " he adds.
Lalnunfela's onfield strengths are his speedy movements and the knack to create space for himself to set up goal-scoring opportunities. Nevertheless, he admits to his shortcomings: "I need to improve upon my finishing as well, " he says with a coy look.
Lalnunfela knows it's a hard road ahead to achieve his long term goal - play for India. And for this he's gladly willing to go through the grind. Even if it means two strenuous training sessions in a single day. "I definitely want to play for India some day. That's my aim. I know I need to work hard for that but I know I can make it, " he says, suddenly perking up.
William is impressed by the training techniques at Pune FC which have helped him greatly during his twoyear stay here. "I have learned a lot of things here at Pune FC. The facilities are good too, " he says.
And this has only hardened Lalnunfela's stance of becoming a professional footballer even if it means sacrificing his education midway, something which he was serious about not too long ago. He has just completed his twelfth standard in Mizoram and looking at the options ahead he appears set to steer away from further education and towards full commitment to football.
"I have just finished my twelfth standard but now I don't think I will pursue further education, " he admits shyly. This decision also stems from the fact that his contract was just renewed for a period of five years with Pune FC and the club intends to loan out its top U-19 players to various clubs. This means that William may not have time for further education if he has to shift to a new club in a different city.
Like most footballers with a nose for goal, Lalnunfela adores Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo and like most footballers from his state, he is a big admirer of statemate Shylo 'Mama' Malswamtulunga. Currently with Prayag, midfielder Mama is revered by most footballers from the tiny, hill state, since it was his decade-long spell with the top Indian clubs that opened the gates for other youngsters from Mizoram. "He moves so fast and his skills are great, " says Lalnunfela of Malswamtulunga.
A fan of country music, Lalnunfela is ready is to play for another club on loan but his loyalties remain embedded at Pune FC. "I am ready to play for another club now. It's a challenge and I accept it. But some day I want to play for Pune FC in the senior I-League, " he says, before adding that he would also like to find himself in the Mohun Bagan line-up someday, a team which he has greatly admired from his childhood days.
He admits that he misses home sometimes and does speak to his parents regularly on phone. But during match days he does not call them before the match. "I want to concentrate before the match so I call them only after the match to tell them the result, even if we lose, " he says.
William may not have started signing fat contracts yet but he hopes that soon through his career he can make his family happy. His father is a carpenter and mother a housewife, and both are past 50, so Lalnunfela is hoping that success at football will help him take care of them as they grow older. "I want to make them happy and take care of them in old age. That's the most important thing. It's the reason why I score those goals, " he says.
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