With just over a month remaining for the I-League to begin, the big teams from Goa pulled out of the league due to conflicts with the AIFF, and there were simply not enough teams to start the league. So, Aizawl FC, the team that was relegated the previous season, was offered a chance to play in the country’s top division league once more. To say they grabbed their opportunity with both hands, would be an understatement. They are now on top of the league and hold a 3-point lead over 2nd placed East Bengal with just 4 matches remaining.
Pic credit : Aizwal fc FB page
Aizawl FC had just one month to prepare for the league. They appointed Khalid Jamil, who was without a club after leaving Mumbai FC in the previous season, as their head coach for the season. Reportedly, his main objective was to avoid relegation. Aizawl FC is a club that focuses on youth development. With a budget of ₹2 Crore for the season, you can’t expect to sign many big names anyway! Out of their 30-man squad, 23 are from the NorthEast region and the 3 other Indians are uncapped youngsters.
Aizawl FC does not revolve around individuals. Their 19 goals have been scored by 9 different players, the most in the league. They have recorded 6 wins with a 1-0 scoreline. Sir Alex Ferguson once said, “How many times have I said to you about 1-0? What does it mean? It means championship form. I don’t mind the 1-0s, I really don’t, because it tells you we are determined, we’re going to defend, do the right things and play as a team”. It is precisely what Aizawl are doing right now. They do the right things, and play as a team. They beat DSK Shivajians twice with the same scoreline, and in both games, they scored a late winner.
In the words of DSK coach Dave Rogers, “That’s what they’ve been good at. They contain teams and nick in goals and they have done that to us twice now.” During their miraculous title winning season last year, Leicester City had the most 1-0 wins in the league. Leicester may not have been the most interesting team to watch, but they got the job done.
An integral part of Aizawl FC is the fans. Some say the reason why Aizawl FC was reinstated to the first division is because of the passion shown by the fans. You don’t often see empty stands at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl during a match. These pictures were taken when 11000+ supporters flooded the 7000-capacity stadium during the match vs East Bengal. Fans are also the reason why Aizawl are still unbeaten at home with just 1 home game remaining. With 7 wins out of 8 games, it is their home form that has propelled them to the top spot.
Despite being on top of the table, not one single player from Aizawl FC has been called up for the Indian national squad. A team that got relegated in its debut season in the I-League, luckily gets reinstated. It is playing only its second season in the nation’s top division, and is well within reach of the title. Can Aizawl pull off a Leicester City? With East Bengal and Mohun Bagan dropping points of late, it looks more achievable than ever