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Lalrindika Ralte: Want to keep working for Mizoram and Indian Football

Lalrindika Ralte in action for the Indian national team. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)
Lalrindika Ralte in action for the Indian national team. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)

As we edge closer to the resumption of the Hero I-League season, one of the stalwarts of Indian Football who has been mesmerising fans over the years, has decided to call it a day on his career as a professional footballer.

Lalrindika Ralte, popularly known as Dika among his teammates, is someone who has played the game professionally for over a decade, winning accolades from across the land, and also for the country.

As Ralte looks forward to the next chapter in his life, caught up with him to talk about memories of the past, and plans for the future. Upon his retirement from the ‘beautiful game,’ Ralte feels that it is time for him to spend more time with his family, something that becomes difficult as a professional footballer.

“It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve taken in my life so far. Could I have played for a couple of more seasons? Maybe. But I took the decision to retire with my family in mind. Nothing is more important than family,” Lalrindika said.

“I have to take care of my wife and kids, and also my parents. They have also been asking me to spend more time with them, and that is something that becomes a bit difficult as a football player. So, I decided to hang up my boots,” he stated.

However, the former attacking midfielder made it clear that retirement from football does not mean that he will be moving away from the game that he has loved since childhood.

“This does not mean that I will be leaving football altogether. I do have plans to get into coaching in the future, maybe build my own academy in the Lunglei village, here in Mizoram,” said Ralte. “I very much want to be around football; I want to keep working for Mizoram football and for Indian football.”

Didika is the first player to make it professionally, from his village, but more have followed suit in the following years. The likes of Blue Tigers winger Lallinzuala Chhangte and Edmund Lalrindika are currently carrying forward the love for football that Ralte had started in his own village.

“People in our village love football. I may be the first one from my village to play professionally, but there have been many who love the game and would have loved the chance. Of course, the facilities that are available to everyone to help them become an athlete is not something that we had access to back in those days. I want to make sure that the next generation of kids can access these things,” he said.

Mama’s boy

Being the first professional footballer from his village, Dika may be an inspiration now to the youngsters of Lunglei, Mizoram. However, he had a similarly drawn inspiration from another legend of Indian football back in his younger days.

“In terms of playing style, I loved watching Sunil Chhetri and Zinedine Zidane when I was young. But my real inspiration was Mama (Shylo Malsawmtluanga),” informed Dika. “I did not get to see much of his game in his prime, but he was the first professional footballer from Mizoram, and he showed us all the way.”

“When we first heard that there was someone from Mizoram who made it to one of the big clubs in Kolkata and was doing really well there – it motivated me. As a youngster, it gave me the belief,” he recalled. “Before him there were no Mizo footballers out there, but reading about him, and hearing about him motivated so many of us youngsters who wanted to play football.”

The midfielder is one of those few players who was lucky enough to play in the same team as his idol when he joined East Bengal back in 2012.

“It was such an honour to play with him in the same team. He was towards the end of his career back then, but the amount we all learned from him was immense. He really is kind, and a good human being,” Didika informed.

Indian Arrows prepared me for the next level

Ralte is someone who has come through the ranks of junior international football, having represented India at the U-16, U-19 and U-22 levels before making it through to the senior team back in 2011.

“When I was starting out as a kid, I never really thought much about playing international football. But once I started playing for the U-16 team, the dream started to take place,” he said.

It was a dream that had kicked off in style for Dika, who was an integral part of the side that qualified for the AFC U-16 Championship in 2008, with the attacking medio scoring three in the qualifiers. Moving on to the main tournament, Ralte scored a brace in a defeat against the Republic of Korea, one of whose goal-scorers was none other than a certain Son Heung-min.

In the midst of a fledgling career, a stint with the Indian Arrows in the 2010-11 season helped give him the push to the top level that he needed.

“Arrows was a really important stepping stone for me. It was an all-Indian team, and we learned so much together that season,” he recalled. “Colm Toal was our coach and he really taught us what training discipline meant.”

“We played exactly the same formation and the same system as the Senior National Team, and that really helped ease us into the senior team once we got the chance.”

Winning in India jersey my greatest experience

Lalrindika Ralte is a man who has won a number of trophies during his playing career. Starting from the Durand Cup with Churchill Brothers (2011), to the Federation Cup and IFA Shield (2012), three Calcutta Football League titles with East Bengal, and a Hero ISL title with ATK (2015), the veteran footballer has won it all at the domestic level.

However, it was his triumph at the international level, that has brought Dika the greatest pleasure during his football career.

“Winning each and every title had a different feeling. Durand, Fed Cup, the Calcutta League, IFA Shield – they all felt great. The ISL victory was obviously a big one in my career. But the best moment was perhaps when we won the SAFF Championship (2011) in Delhi,” he beamed. “Winning in the national colours was a completely different feeling.”

“At the club level, I have so much respect for every club that I have played for, and even played against. They are all doing so much for Indian football, and I hope they all continue to do so,” said Didka.

“All the trophies I won with the clubs were special, but if I have to choose a moment, it would be the Kolkata Derbies that I played. I was lucky enough to score in some of them, and the pure emotions that you feel out on the pitch in those matches are something completely different. I am lucky to have experienced that in my footballing career.”

A man who thoroughly enjoys the discipline that football imparts to the life of a footballer, Ralte puts hard work and dedication as some of the most important traits that make a successful footballer at the professional level.

“The most important thing is to care for the game. If you do that, stay disciplined and exercise self-control, the game will give lots back to you. One needs to work hard with determination, and only then can one become a good footballer in the future,” said Ralte.

(Soumo Ghosh / AIFF Media)