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ISL 2018-19: Pune City's Jakob Vanlalhlimpuia following Mizo darling Jeje Lalpekhlua's footsteps

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514   //    09 Oct 2018, 18:07 IST

Jakob Vanlalhlimpuia (centre) of FC Pune City [Image: ISL]
Jakob Vanlalhlimpuia (centre) of FC Pune City [Image: ISL]

In just 69 minutes, FC Pune City striker Jakob Vanlalhlimpuia has shaken the popularity of Jeje Lalpekhlua back in their hometown Hnahthial, a five-hour drive from the Mizoram capital Aizawl.

A little more than an hour is how long Jakob got to play Pune's first Indian Super League (ISL) game against Delhi Dynamos, and the 18-year-old has already managed to win hearts throughout the country with his performance during the 1-1 draw.

The mazy runs and the blistering pace offered by Jakob is just a glimpse of the raw talent available from Hnahthial - and Mizoram as a whole - where Jeje continues to be a loved figure everyone looks up to, including the spirited Jakob.

Also read: Pune City's Sahil Panwar fulfilling footballer dad's dream

"Jeje is really popular where I come from," Jakob, who landed in Pune because of his team Chanmari FC's tie-up with the club, said. "You can see children in all the streets of Mizoram donning his jersey and if there's a match around, they would also wear his face masks. Where I come from, football is everything and Jeje is one of the most popular guys."

Speaking further about Hnahthial, Jakob says the city has one of the best footballing cultures in the country, but it lacks supporting infrastructure, which forces its citizens to seek for opportunities elsewhere.

"Back home, we don't have a football stadium or even a turf. We started playing in gravel grounds, whichever was the closest, and grew up like that. 

"We used to play football in the morning as well as evenings. You get up as early as 5 am and then head to the field to play until 8. Then you go to school but you just can't wait for school to get over so that you are back on the ground.

"The evening playtime starts at 3.30 pm and goes on until sunset - about 6.30 pm. You could say we played football for about 6-7 hours a day.

"But no stadium. The first stadium that I saw was in Aizawl, the Mizoram capital."

Jakob's story is no different. The young forward spent a lot of hours at the gravel ground near his home, hoping to be noticed. His father, a tailor, had to save up for a month to buy Jakob his first cleats.

It's a sacrifice that Jakob will never forget for it then saw him land a contract with Shillong Lajong in 2016. A year on, he returned to Chanmari FC. And it was his luck that Pune had tied up with the club for he immediately packed his bags and set out for Maharashtra.

"I joined Shillong Lajong in 2016 and left my hometown," Jakob said. "I was 17 and that's when I got my first glimpse of a professional football setup.

"The training sessions were planned and the coach knew what he was doing. I rejoined Chanmari FC for the Mizoram Premier League and then got a chance to play in the ISL.

"There was a match which served as a selection trial. I was informed after the game that I had been chosen and I immediately signed a contract to play in the ISL. Then, a few days ago, I got to play for FC Pune City in their first game of the season."

And 3 October 2018 is a day Jakob will never forget. The team found a late equaliser against Dynamos, thanks to Jakob's replacement Diego Carlos, but nothing could spoil Jakob's day.

"That moment too was a memorable one for me," Jakob said. "No one knows whether he's going to play or not. I found out once I saw the squad sheet and the coach told me to go get ready.

"In Pune, there are so many exceptional foreign strikers like Emiliano Alfaro and Marcelinho that it's difficult for you to get a chance to make the Playing XI. It's not easy at all.

"Going ahead, the first thing is that I should be named in the playing XI. Once I get a chance, I hope to contribute as much as I can for the team. I want to create as many chances as possible or even score a few goals."

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