After establishing itself as one of the dominant clubs of the region (see section THE RISE), Shillong Lajong turned its attention to the other goal that it began its journey with – the development of football with an emphasis and concentration on youth.
The Shillong Lajong Football Club Academy was set up in 2007 with the sole aim of developing the game at the grassroots level, keeping in mind the abundant football talent in the North East. With it came the setting up of the Club’s junior teams, which would go on to complement the senior squad.
The Academy has been instrumental in transforming and grooming the young players and has helped them to eventually graduate to the senior outfit and, most importantly, helped them grow into the next batch of football stars, leaving no stone unturned in the quest for precision and excellence.
Beginning with an Under-14 team, more junior divisions were incorporated in the U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-19 levels. All the teams underwent rigorous training and development under the watchful eyes of Bobby Nongbet and Kenneth Khongwar, the Club’s two prominent youth officials.
Very quickly, these junior teams made their presence felt in various competitions and international events, such as the Inter Milan Youth Tournament, Manchester United Premier Cup and Bayern Munich Youth Cup, where they were able to represent their Club and Country. Their accomplishments grabbed headlines and matched those of their senior counterparts, who were busy filling up the Club’s trophy cabinet.
Lajong also started the ‘Goal 14’ project in 2009, whose objective was to develop local players from the North East into a new generation of Lajong products for Indian football’s top flight, the I-League. Academy players have also gone on to be part of the Indian U-14 and U-19 national teams and many of those part of the ‘Goal 14’ project now feature in the Lajong senior team that is part of the I-League.
On the Shillong football scene, Lajong has continued to dominate and the Academy players have rewarded the faith the management showed in them by winning back-to-back Shillong Premier League titles in 2014 and 2015. With an average age of just 20, the young team twice emerged champions against local clubs that had more experienced local and foreign players.
A summary of the junior players’ achievements include:
- Being part of the Indian team at the Inter Milan Youth Tournament and Bayern Munich Youth Cup
- Winning the India leg of the Manchester United Premier Cup (U-15) and representing India at the world finals at Old Trafford, Manchester
- Winning the Tottenham Leap start Tournament (U-14)
- Champions of the U-19 Shillong Premier League 2011 & 2015
- Winners of the Meghalaya Football Players Association Tournament 2011 (U-16)
- Winners of the All India Invitation Football Championship 2013 (Golaghat Assam)
- Champions of the Shillong Premier League Super Division 2014 & 2015
FROM ACADEMY TO I-LEAGUE AND BEYOND
With a line of academy products actively contributing to the competitive teams of Shillong Lajong FC, including the senior I-League outfit, the success of the initiative that started a decade ago has begun bearing rich fruit.
Zodingliana was part of the India national U-14, U-16 and U-19 camps and featured regularly for North East United and Delhi Dynamos FC in the Indian Super League.
Four players from the Academy were also selected in the Indian U-19 national team and played in the 2014 Asian Football Confederation Cup Qualifiers in Qatar and also went for an exposure trip to China. These were: Rupert Nongrum, Jacob Lalrawngbawla,Shaiborlang Kharpan, Nim Dorjee Tamang and Zodingliana.
In the summer of 2014, the Lajong Academy recruited the services of five U-19 players from the All India Football Federation Elite Academy: Alen Deory, Vishal Kaith, Issac Vanmalsawma, Joseph Lalfakzuala and Pritam Kumar Singh. These players also played in the AFC Cup U-19 Qualifiers.
In 2015, the Club made three new signings to strengthen its squad by bringing on youngsters; Chinglensana Singh and Aibanbha Kupar Dohling from TFA and Milan Basumatary from the AIFF Elite Academy.
The Club has promoted a number of its youngsters to the senior team over the years: Nim Dorjee Tamang, Rupert Nongrum, Samuel Shadap, Redeem Tlang, Shaiborlang Kharpan, Sandeep Singh, Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Zodingliana, Bipin Singh, Jacob Lalrawngbawla, Lalramuana, Hardy Cliff Nongbri, Alen Deory, Vishal Kaith, Issac Vanmalsawma, Pritam Kumar Singh, Joseph Lalfakzuala, Aibanbha Kupar Dohling, Milan Basumatary, and Chinglensana Konsham Singh.
Redeem Tlang, Nim Dorjee Tamang, Zodingliana, Issac, Chinglensana and Samuela have all scored goals for the senior team, while Vishal Kaith was the team’s custodian in 17 out of Lajong’s 18 matches in the 2015-16 seasons (I-League and Federation Cup).
At present, the U-19 team’s head coach is Alison Kharsyntiew, while the U-15 team is coached by Seibor Sana. In 2015 the Club also hired former Lajong goalkeeper Gumpe Rime as the Head of Youth Development from the prestigious Tata Football Academy.
The academy currently has over 80 players on its roster and is divided into U-15 and U-19 categories, with the addition of a new U-10 and U-12 programme, from six North East states – Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Nagaland, Assam and Manipur. Every year the Lajong Academy players compete in the All India Football Federation’s Youth League tournaments and many other local & regional football tournaments.
Besides this, the Club also conducts periodic grassroots football festivals for the U-12s to identify talent and encourage healthy outdoor activity.
There has been much success, but the Academy’s mission is a continuing one and it will carry on grooming and developing the skills and talents of the boys so that they are enabled to perform in the challenging and ever-demanding football arena.
As they say, the sky is the limit and no less so for this talented bunch of youngsters, the crème de la crème of North East football’s future, who are already scripting history and bringing glory to their Club, their States and their Country.