Shillong Lajong had a rather disappointing 2012/3 I-League season as the club found itself fighting relegation most of the times. As is always the case, the hopes are high from the club who are no doubt the face of Indian Football in the North-East
It was in 2009, that Shillong Lajong made its entry into I-League for the first time in the club’s history. Since then, the northeastern outfit has had to go through quite a bumpy ride. After experiencing relegation in their first season, the reds fought their way back into I-league in twelve months’ time. Led by Pradhyum Reddy from the sidelines, Lajong finished 10th in their second ever season in the top flight. Prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, Larsing Ming hired Scotsman Desmond Bulpin to take over as the coach of the team.
With the appointment of Bulpin, who had previously coached the Indian Arrows outfit, and with some new players in the team, Lajong were expected to raise a serious challenge for a top half league finish. However, as it turned out, Bulpin’s marriage with Lajong didn’t last long. Despite starting the season well under the Scot, Lajong struggled to win games, and were only a few points above the relegation zone in January. A string of unfavorable results, a win-less streak of nine games, culminated in the sacking of Bulpin. Assistant coach Thangboi Singto took over the reins at the club, and was able to somewhat steady the ship in the next few months. Lajong were able to stave off relegation, ensuring a third successive season in the Indian top flight.
Since qualifying for the I-League for the first time in 2009, Lajong have had four different coaches till date, in three different I-League campaigns. Yet, the sacking of Bulpin last January came as quite a surprise to the Lajong faithfuls. After failing to win a league game in their last 9 matches, Bulpin had stood at a precarious position. However, considering there was still a third of the league left, and with Lajong still above the drop-zone then, it could be argued that the club pressed the panic button a tad bit early. Had Bulpin been given some time to rethink his strategies in the I-League break between February and March, the Scot may have found solutions for his under-performing side. Bulpin’s sacking paved the way for assistant coach Thangboi Singto to take over as the interim coach in January.
Having worked with the club for 4 years in the capacity of an assistant coach, Thangboi Singto knew his team well. He tried to bring order into his team’s defence, and also succeeded in doing so, up to a certain extent. The team’s improved defense was eventually crucial in its quest for survival. Taking over the team midway through the season was never an easy task and in this regard Thangboi Singto did a commendable job in helping Lajong survive relegation. The improved performances of some senior players under Singto were quite noticeable during the final stages of the league, and this helped the reds in grinding out some crucial results. It will however be interesting to see whether Larsing Ming and the club stick with Singto, or bring a new manager in for the new season. Considering the need for ushering in stability at the club at some point of time, Thangboi Singto looks like the perfect candidate to take Lajong forward in the coming years. After working closely with the club in the last 4 years, Singto knows it well enough, in and out, to take a long-term coaching role at Lajong. A new coach next season would only ensure instability at the club, something the Lajong fans wouldn’t really want.
In recent years, Shillong Lajong have quite often been praised for their policy of signing and developing young football players from the North-East. Although the club’s promotion of local players is highly commendable, not looking towards footballers from mainstream India will only rid the club from benefiting from other quality players available in the market. Due to its low budget, and the policy of signing only North-East players, apart from foreigners, Lajong’s options get limited to a few players every season. This prevents the reds from gaining from a vast pool of available players throughout the country. The club may have to alter this policy a bit in the long run in order to enjoy greater success at the top level. The club shouldn’t shy away from signing players from other regions, who would improve the overall quality of the team. Of course, this doesn’t mean the club should absolutely discontinue its policy of signing North-east players, but they should definitely liberalize it a bit in future.
Over the years, Shillong Lajong have been lucky to have had the support of thousands of passionate fans in the club’s endeavors. Whether they are playing in the local league or the I-League, the local support has always been brilliant. This support has often spurred the team to greater heights in recent years. With this fantastic support behind them, Lajong will be hoping to take bigger steps in Indian football in the years to come. It will take the club quite some time to become a powerhouse in the country; however, with an efficient youth development system, and hopefully some stability in the club management, the club is bound to take Indian football by storm in a few years’ time.
Written by TheHardTackle’s Guest Author Bhargab Sarmah
Follow the Author on Twitter – @BhargabSarmah