‘We have unfinished business in ISL’: Mumbai City FC's Chhangte | Football News - Hindustan Times
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‘We have unfinished business in ISL’: Mumbai City FC's Chhangte

ByDhiman Sarkar
Apr 13, 2024 03:26 PM IST

Afghanistan was a wake-up call and we will come back stronger, said the India and Mumbai City attacker ahead of Monday’s shield decider against Mohun Bagan.

“You can be nervous but you can’t be afraid, right?” Even when he is speaking softly, Lallianzuala Chhangte sounded confident, like he does when he has the ball. Winners of the league shield in the Indian Super League (ISL) last season, Mumbai City FC are a draw away from an encore. It will have to happen at a Salt Lake stadium that could be an intimidating cauldron, against an in-form Mohun Bagan Super Giant. “A dream final game,” said Chhangte. “It will be wonderful to go out there, fight against them and win it.”

Lallianzuala Chhangte(PTI)
Lallianzuala Chhangte(PTI)

Of course, he would have wanted to win it while Mumbai City FC were training on Thursday. Had Mohun Bagan dropped points at Bengaluru FC that would have been that. But they creamed the former ISL champions 4-0 to set this up: another must-win tie to be the best after 22 rounds. Mohun Bagan have never done it, and on 45 points, two behind leaders Mumbai City, Monday is a must-win game for the home team. Up for grabs is 6 crore as prize money and a chance to represent India in Asia.

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Chhangte and his mates watched the second half during which Mohun Bagan scored three goals in eight minutes. “They nailed it,” he said. “It is going to be an intense, physical match. Look, it is all about your mentality; how much you can enjoy the game (in such a situation) and do your best.”

In a career that has spanned three ISL clubs, a league shield and 35 games for India, Chhangte has never represented a Kolkata team. While that is a measure of how the club scene has spread well beyond the over-100-year giants of Indian football, can it hinder players not used to this atmosphere? Chhangte has played for India once here and said that experience was wonderful. It may not be quite that this time.

“The more the fans, the more enjoyable it will be,” he said on a Zoom call on Friday. “We will be focused on our team, our ability, our plans. There will be pressure but that is normal for me," he said. And that is when the 26-year-old attacking player spoke about the difference between being afraid and nervous.

Chhangte is not considering the possibility of choosing between winning the shield and the ISL trophy. “That’s a hard question, man,” he laughed. “I will go for both. Last year, we missed one, right? (Mumbai won the shield with two rounds to spare but lost to Bengaluru FC on penalties in the play-off). There is some unfinished business...” Mumbai City’s only ISL trophy came in 2020-21, when they also won the shield. Chhangte joined them next term.

In 21 games, Chhangte has six goals, the second highest among Indians after Mumbai City’s Vikram Partap Singh, who is suspended for this game. He also has six assists, second after Mohun Bagan’s Manvir Singh, and fourth overall. Twelve goal contributions is the sixth best overall and the most among Indians. Last season, he had 10 goals and six assists and was adjudged player of the season.

“I understand the game better now and have become more of a team player. Of course, I want to do better than last year but I am more focused on three points in every game I play.”

Crucial to that has been Peter Kratky, who joined as head coach after Des Buckingham left last year. Part of the City Football Group, the 42-year-old Czech was got over from Melbourne City in December. “When Peter came in, he changed something. He gave responsibility to every player. The Indian boys took this to heart. When you have a coach who trusts you, gives you responsibility, you will want to give something more, right? He has helped us rediscover the importance of team work.”

That is how, Chhangte said, Mumbai City dealt with the departures of Buckingham, their coach for over two seasons during which they won the shield and had an 18-game unbeaten run, and creative midfielder Greg Stewart and the absence through injury and suspension of forward Jorge Pereyra Diaz.

The focus is ISL but Chhangte did not dodge questions on the national team’s underwhelming run. It was his assist for Manvir Singh in November that fetched India’s only goal from open play in six games, four of which have ended in defeats. “As a player, I take full responsibility. Definitely we could have and should have done better.” Playing at nearly 3000m above sea level, fatigue and lack of time to get ready were also mentioned while explaining the deplorable draw and defeat against Afghanistan. “But of course, these are not excuses,” he said.

“Afghanistan was a wake-up call. We will learn from this and come back stronger. That is a promise.”

India’s next assignments are the World Cup qualifiers in June, against Kuwait (home) and Qatar (away). India are second in the group and if they do the double on Kuwait, they could make the third round for the first time.

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