My dream is to make it to the national team: Rinzuala

April 3, 2024
It is rare to see an Indian forward with double figures in the scorers’ charts in the ISL or I-League, let alone one vying for the top scorer award.

New Delhi, April 3 (IANS) It is rare to see an Indian forward with double figures in the scorers’ charts in the ISL or I-League, let alone one vying for the top scorer award.

Only twice in the last 10 seasons have Indian names figured in the I-League top scorers’ list – Sunil Chhetri’s 14 goals in Bengaluru FC’s title-winning season in 2013-14, and Bidyashagar Singh’s 12 goals in TRAU FC’s title challenge (they finished third) in 2020-21.

However, the 2023-24 season of the I-League, has brought forth a fledgling forward, a 23-year-old, who has surpassed those that have come before him. Lalrinzuala Lalbiaknia, fondly called Rinzuala by those around him, the Aizawl FC forward has already netted 15 goals from 19 appearances in his debut season.

Rinzuala has already surpassed the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Bhaichung Bhutia (14 goals in 1996-97), Jeje Lalpekhlua (12 goals in 2010-11) in terms of the number of goals scored in a season, but the 23-year-old is gunning for greater glories at the present. He is currently entwined in a race for the top scorers’ award in the 2023-24 I-League season, having scored one less than Alejandro Sanchez Lopez of Gokulam. For the Aizawl lad, however, he’s well past the mark he had set out to reach at the start of the season.

“I never thought I’d score so many goals when I joined Aizawl at the start of the season. My personal aim was to score maybe five or six for Aizawl. I did not even think that I would get to start so many matches,” he laughed.

Like all forwards, Lalrinzuala also had a lean spell in the middle of the season, when a minor injury meant that he did not score for five games. However, the mid-season break gave him time to recover, and Rinzuala netted in every game in March.

Rinzuala had started his footballing journey in the streets of Serchhip, a small town in Mizoram, where he honed his core skills. He played in the Subroto Cup, before being scouted by the Bengaluru FC academy, which he represented at the U-16 and U-18 levels. However, just when it looked like the young forward could launch his career, tragedy struck – twice.

His father, who was a driver, passed away in 2016, taking away the sole breadwinner from his family, before his elder brother died in an accident the following year.

Rinzuala’s woes would not end just there, as he suffered an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in 2018, an injury that took him 11 months to recover from.

“It was a very difficult period for me, we were all emotionally down. My mother started a chicken farm after that, and that has sustained our family since,” said Rinzuala. “As for my injury, it took me a long time to get back to playing football. It was an uncertain period, but I’m happy that I’ve put that past me now. I don’t like to dwell much on it nowadays. It’s better to keep looking forward.”

Gokulam Kerala came calling for Rinzuala, and although he played for the club for three seasons, he mostly operated in the reserve team. Just when things did not seem to be going according to plan, Rinzuala decided to take a step back and move back home, when he joined Chhinga Veng to play in the Mizoram Premier League in 2022.

“It was a decision that I felt I had to take. Things were not working out for me, and I was not getting to play as much. Also, the situation at home was not that great, so I needed the change in my career, I needed to come back home and start afresh,” said Rinzuala.

After a good season in the MPL later, the young forward was snapped up by Aizawl FC to play in the I-League.

“It was a good moment to finally make it to the I-League. I can now provide for my family, which is the most important thing for me,” he said. “I also have the added advantage of playing professionally from home. I think coming back here has helped me a lot. It helped take my mind away from other things, and now I can focus on football. I am much calmer now, than what I was a few years back.”

As the 23-year-old looks to end the season as the top scorer in the I-League, he has his eyes set on the national colours. “Right now, I think the most important thing is for me to make it to the National Team. I know that’s still some distance away, but that’s where I want to be,” Rinzuala concluded.



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