After years of being nearly there, Chhangte needs to take the next step at Chennaiyin FC…
Four years ago, Lallianzuala Chhangte burst into the Indian football scene with a brace against Nepal in the 2015 SAFF Cup held in Thiruvananthapuram. He became the second-youngest Indian goalscorer at the national level when he beat his marker with a neat stepover after cutting inside from the right flank and curled an excellent shot into the top left corner of the net.
The then India head coach Stephen Constantine was worried about the teenage sensation getting hyped up with an overflow of media attention. Last week, a 22-year-old Chhangte played and scored his first goal for Chennaiyin in front of his new home crowd against Kerala Blasters and had an impressive outing overall. But the Mizo winger’s career hasn’t progressed all that much, in a way that everyone expected.
Since that famous debut against Nepal, Chhangte struggled to make a mark for DSK Shivajians in the I-League but a move to Delhi Dynamos was expected to turn things around for the young winger. He ended up with eight goals and two assists in 36 matches for a team that struggled in the Indian Super League (ISL) and were dependent on him to make an impact in the attacking third.
The lack of a proper striker to play off may have affected Chhangte’s productivity but his overall efficiency in the attacking third has not been at a level expected of him. And it is quite baffling how little he has progressed in the last three years.
He is presently a winger with loads of pace and a brilliant knack of taking opponents on but also without an excellent cross or a finish in his arsenal. Chennaiyin’s game against Kerala Blasters was such an anomaly and a fresh take on Chhangte’s abilities in the attacking third because he terrorised the Blasters defence. Owen Coyle needs much more of that from the team’s major signing of the summer.
“I feel I can improve Chhangte. We have worked with Chhangte. But he deserves credit for what he has done. He does difficult things very easily. He penetrates defences very easily and my focus was to help him improve the final ball. He runs too much at that point and I wanted him to slow down and have some composure. He was outstanding,” his coach had said after the game against Kerala Blasters.
Somewhere down the line, the 22-year-old failed to take off but time is still on his side.
Most Indian players struggle with consistency and that is what Chhangte needs to improve. He needs to not only improve his finishing but also work his way towards being a consistent attacking outlet for his team. The potential is there, it is just a matter of fulfilling it and at Chennaiyin, he has all the support he needs from Coyle.