Apuia Ralte becomes the first ever Highlander to win the Hero ISL Emerging Player of the season Award | Photo: ISL

Lalengmawia aka Apuia became the first player from NorthEast United FC (NEUFC) to be awarded as the Emerging Player of the League in the Indian Super League (ISL).

The 20-year old midfielder from Mizoram played a crucial role in helping his side reach the semifinals this time. Overall it was NEUFC’s second semifinal appearance in history.

Apuia, who played in all the 22 matches, was a solid defensive presence, making 93 tackles and 46 interceptions for his side. He scored one goal as well and had a strong passing accuracy of 74.47 per cent throughout the season.

By virtue of his performances in the ISL, Apuia was named in the list of 35 probables for the forthcoming Indian senior national team camp by head coach Igor Stimac.

“I haven’t achieved anything yet. I have been called as a probable and haven’t been selected yet. But, I would like to thank coach Mr Stimac for trusting me and calling me for the probables squad. I’ll work hard to pay him back and give my best. I’ll do my best to make the country proud,” Apuia said.

“This will be my first time playing for the national team. It will be difficult to compete against the best players in the country and there will be pressure but I need to work on that because it’s all about competing against each other in football. I will have to work hard more than ever because I’ll have to compete against the best in the country,” he added.

The youngster also mentioned that during the league, he received a text message from the head coach himself and how it motivated him further.

The central midfielder has now completed two campaigns with NorthEast United FC but it was at the Indian Arrows that his journey in professional football began. He spoke about the value of that experience and how getting game-time helped him improve.

“Playing for Indian Arrows was an important step for everyone in that team. In the I-League, there were a lot of good Indian and foreign players, and competing against the best helped us a lot. We got a lot of valuable game time, which was very important for us to improve ourselves,” Apuia opined.

“The Arrows game time and exposure helped us become better players and if we hadn’t got that experience, I wouldn’t be here in life at this point. It is very difficult for a player without experience and exposure to play at the top level because there is a lot of pressure when playing against the top players. The time with the Arrows really helped us in that regard as well,” he added.

A former junior India international, Lalengmawia was part of the Indian side that took part in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. He termed it as a ‘life-changing opportunity’ and looked back at the positives of having played at the historic event and the numerous exposure matches against top-quality opposition.

Apuia, who wears number 45 jersey for the Highlanders, said that he is a great fan of Mario Balotelli.

“No. 45 is my favourite number because of one man — Mario Balotelli. I like him a lot and admire his confidence and calmness. He never panics. That’s why I chose number 45 for my jersey and will continue with it,” Apuia said while sharing his admiration of the 30-year-old Italian striker, who is a UEFA Champions League, Serie A and Premier League title winner.

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