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Who is actually India's youngest goal scorer?

It is not Lallianzuala Chhangte, but another young Manipuri sensation who's no longer playing football


Chhangte
Lallianzuala Chhangte mistakenly made the headlines for being India’s youngest goal scorer

The oldest player to have scored a goal in the World Cup is Roger Milla of Cameroon when he scored against Russia on 28 June, 1994. He was then 42 years and 39 days old. The youngest player in World Cup history to have scored a goal is Pelé of Brazil when he scored against Wales on 19 June, 1958. He was then only 17 years and 7 months and 27 days days old.

The youngest hat-trick scorer is also Pele who was 17 years, 8 months and 1 day on 24 June, 1958 when Brazil beat France 5-2 in the semi finals on 24 June 1958.  The youngest goal scorer, in a World Cup final is also the Black Pearl of Santos, the incomparable Pele who was 17 years, 8 months and 6 days old when he scored a brace against Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final, which Brazil won 5-2.

These facts and trivia are well documented in the FIFA archives and available at the click of the mouse. They are updated, altered after every World Cup. Sadly documentation has always been the Achilles heel of the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF). Why blame the AIFF, most national sports federations do not maintain their history very well.

Consequently when the talented young Mizoram winger Lallianzuala Chhangte scored two memorable goals against Nepal in a group A league match of the 10th SAFF Cup in Thiruvanathapuram on 28 December, 2015, it was hailed as a record breaking feat. Several newspapers, especially in Mizoram crowned him as India’s youngest ever goal scorer. Is he really the youngest?

Previous record holders

There was a lot of conjecture about who could be the youngest. For nearly four decades the accolade of India’s youngest ever international goal scorer was held by PK Banerjee. The brilliant right winger was born on 15 October 1936 and scored a brace against then Ceylon in the Dhaka Quadrangular on 18 December 1955. He was then 19 years, two months and two days old when he became India’s youngest goal scorer.

India beat Ceylon 4-3 with Sheoo Mewalal and Abdus Sattar scoring the other goals. India won that tournament with an all win record (beating Burma 5-2 and Pakistan 2-1). Hyderabad’s SK Azizuddin was the captain and Saroj Bose the coach.

A year later T. Balaram, Nikhil Nandy and Zulfiqar were all teenagers when they represented India in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics but they did not score a goal. So for most of the 20th century, it was the mercurial PK Banerjee who held the record.

Lalliazuala’s promise

When the exuberant Lallianzuala scored a brace against Nepal, a left footed curler and a deft header he was 18 years, 4 months and 21 days old.  He had come on as a second half substitute for Sanju Pradhan. He had made his debut for India on Christmas day when he came on as a substitute for the injured Robin Singh in the 75th minute. At that stage he was the 502nd player to be capped by India in international football.

Credit goes to current national coach Stephen Constantine for spotting and nurturing young talent and giving Lallianzuala exposure in an international match.  Many conservative coaches would not have done so. But Constantine has always said that history, reputation and past performances do not matter to him when he is selecting a team. He evaluates a player based on current form and the right attitude. In a way Constantine is like Louis Van Gaal who also believes in the “Performance Principle” when selecting his playing eleven and is willing to give young players a chance.

Lalianzualla was born on 6 August 1997, so on 28 December when he scored his first international goals he was 18 years, four months and 21 days old. He is a product of the DSK Shivajains, Liverpool Academy in Pune. He will feature in the forthcoming I-League for DSK Shivajains (Pune) which is making its debut in India’s premier football competition.

With his exhilarating runs on the flanks and close control, Lallianzuala has become a sensation in Indian football and he was hailed as a savior on social media. Due to the media blitz, experts now started probing the authenticity of this record.

The true youngest goal scorer

A perusal of precocious teenagers who scored for India reveals that Lallianzuala is the third youngest player to have scored for India. The common belief for two decades has been that it was Baichung Bhutia, the Sikkimese sensation born on 15 December 1976. He was 18 years and 90 days old when he scored his debut goal for India against Uzbekistan in a Nehru Cup match on 14 March 1995 in Kolkata. So Baichung was younger than Lallianzuala when he scored but surprisingly he is not the youngest.

The media kept probing and came up with the real answer. The youngest ever goal scorer is another player from Mizoram the diminutive Jerry Zirsanga. Born on 25th December 1987, he was a product of the development schemes in Mizoram. His football talent was nurtured in Tata Football Academy (TFA) where he was a batch-mate of Gouramangi Singh, Debabrata Roy and Subrata Paul (who is still playing for the national team).

A precocious teenager, he was a good crosser and passer of the ball and impressed Stephen Constantine during his first stint as coach of the Indian team (2002—04).  Constantine even then believed in gambling on youth and Jerry was selected for India's squad for the LG CUP in Vietnam, Aug. 21-28 and the 2006 World Cup qualifier vs Japan in Calcutta, on Sept. 8.

Jerry made his debut as a substitute on 22 August in the LG Cup when India beat Myanmar 2-1 with both goals being scored by sprightly winger RC Prakash. Two days later he started against Vietnam in a match which India lost 1-2. He was in the squad for the World Cup qualifier against mighty Japan coached by Zico but remained on the bench. Japan won 4-0.

He next played for India on October 13, 2004 in another World Cup qualifying match an away tie against Singapore. India lost 0-2 and their hopes of progress from the group were finished. Jerry’s moment of glory came in an international friendly against Kuwait played in Kuwait City on 5th November, 2004. He came on as a second half substitute replacing Mahindra United’s midfielder Jatin Singh Bisht.

The Mizo lad, who had joined Mohun Bagan only months back, scored for India in the 64th minute after breaking through on the right and slotting home past the keeper.  The score was then 2-2. But 10 minutes later, Abhishek Yadav (now the Chief Talent scout for the Indian team) scored the winner after latching on to a pass from Alvito D'Cunha as Constantine’s men notched up a memorable 3-2 win against the West Asian nation. Till date it remains India’s last international friendly win outside the sub-continent.

Jerry was only 16 years and 311 days old when he scored against Kuwait on 5 November, 2004. On the other hand, Lallianzuala was 18 years and 140 days old when he scored against Nepal and Baichung was 18 years and 90 days old when he scored against Uzbekistan in 1995.

Sadly Jerry’s international career did not take off, even after such a memorable start. Also as the match was played away from home, the Indian media by and large ignored it. Jerry has been hurt that for all these years his achievement as India’s youngest ever goal-scorer had been ignored. But better late than never; his feat has now been acknowledged.

In club football Jerry played for Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers, Dempo and United Sports. His last stint in the I-League was a couple of seasons ago, when he was part of a Mohammedan Sporting squad that got relegated. He won the I-league with Dempo and astute coach Armando Colaco always praised his football intelligence. But somehow he always remained a substitute and never became a regular first team player in all these clubs.

Maybe misfortune or lack of height has led to Jerry not fulfilling his immense potential. The only consolation for him is that even in international football many precocious teenagers somehow tend to fade away. This has been a trend for several TFA graduates also. Jerry’s near contemporaries from TFA strikers Sheikh Sanjeeb and Vimal Periyar were also highly rated but did not make the cut from immense potential to actual fulfillment.

Jerry celebrated his 28th birthday on Christmas Day 2015 and has already hung up his boots. He did not want to ply his trade in second division clubs. He now wants to venture into business in his hometown.

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