Not many wear the captain's armband in a senior team at the age of 19. Shillong Lajong's Samuel Lalmuanpuia does though. The young midfielder was handed the captaincy, making him one of the youngest skippers in the recently concluded I-League. Of course, you have Amarjit Singh of Indian Arrows but he is captaining a side of 17 and 18-year-olds.
"Lajong is like a big family, the way the team grows from the academy and junior teams. So age is just a number. They trusted me with the responsibility and it was an honour for me," Samuel told Goal.
Samuel spent almost half a decade at the Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA) before moving to Shillong Lajong. He rose through the ranks of Lajong's youth sides and represented the club in the U-19 I-League before making his senior team debut in 2016.
Despite assistant coach Alison Kharsyntiew taking charge of the club for most of the season in the absence of head coach Bobby Nongbet due to personal reasons, the Lajong captain explains that has not hindered the team in any way.
"From my U-18 team, he (Alison) was our coach. So he has a thorough knowledge of the team and it wasn't a problem for him to lead us (in the absence of Nongbet)."
Samuel bagged the 'Best Emerging Player (U-22)' for his exploits in the I-League 2017-18 season. "It's a great feeling (to be conferred with the award). I had never thought of winning the award as we were focused more as a collective unit but I am very happy with the recognition," he reflected.
"Almost every footballer's dream is to play for the country, to give our best. But for that, we have to continuously work in order to be of service to the national team," he shared.
"I was lucky staying in Lajong because they give a lot of young players opportunities. There are a lot of talented players all over India but they don't get to show their talent. If they are all given a platform, you will see many good players. There are a lot of young players with a hunger to prove that they can play at the top level."
There are a considerable number of clubs in the North-East across the Indian Super League (ISL), I-League and Second division I-League. However, over the years, many players from the region have travelled to other parts of the country to ply their trade.
The Mizo lad, who has one year left on his Lajong contract, says, "Most of the players move to bigger clubs because they have the desire to prove themselves at bigger clubs. When we have pressure we enjoy playing football. It's the excitement that drives us. It's the same when we are playing against bigger clubs."
Shillong Lajong take on ISL outfit FC Pune City in the pre-quarterfinals of the inaugural edition of the Super Cup on April 4. But Samuel prefers to stay away from debating the disparity between ISL and I-League teams.
"I am excited to play against ISL teams. We cannot say who is better (between I-League and ISL teams). In England as well sometimes, Championship (lower division) teams beat Premier League sides. So you cannot say," he signed off.