For Daniel Lalhlimpuia, the upcoming edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) will be a chance to get a promising career right back on track after it had somewhat stagnated in recent times.
The Mizoram-born forward has joined the Dynamos after a three-year stint with Bengaluru FC which saw game time come in sparse quantities for the youngster.
Having undergone his footballing education at the Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA), Daniel was poised for big things when he was recruited by AIFF’s (All India Football Federation) Elite Academy in 2013.
Rising through the India youth ranks, the young forward went on to captain the U19 side before catching the eye of then I-League club Bengaluru FC in a couple of friendly matches. Scoring a goal each in the two games, Daniel was handed a two-year contract with the Blues.
A move to Bengaluru was always going to be too big an opportunity to pass up for the youngster at the time, given the explosive start they had made in the I-League and the professional setup they had established in such a short span of time.
Five I-League appearances along with three in the ISL with Chennaiyin FC on loan came in Daniel’s first season with the Blues. The second season saw a spurt in his minutes accumulated with a total of 16 appearances coming in Albert Roca’s first season in charge of Bengaluru as a fourth-place finish in the I-League ensued.
The forward managed to bag two goals in his time in the league including the winner against Mumbai FC at the Sree Kanteerava stadium. That year, he made headlines when he was called up by Stephen Constantine to the India senior squad for a friendly against Puerto Rico.
The young striker came on as a second-half substitute for Sunil Chhetri before being handed a full start in a friendly against Cambodia. Playing for India while featuring prominently for Bengaluru at just 18 years of age, one could say Daniel was going places already.
However, the 2017-18 season saw the young striker’s game time dwindle drastically as Bengaluru made the switch to the ISL. The youngster was not registered in the ISL squad for the initial five matches with the club.
Daniel was left to ply his trade only in Bengaluru’s AFC Cup campaign for the initial part. While he was subsequently inducted into the ISL squad, the Mizoram man was only able to garner a pitiful 5 minutes in total, spread over two substitute appearances against Mumbai City and FC Goa. That this came in a campaign where Bengaluru were the runaway leaders in the league stage before eventually falling to Chennaiyin in the final was a harsh reality check for Daniel.
He was also fielded in Bengaluru FC's reserve side in the I-League 2nd division - something that would rattled the youngster's confidence.
While he did impress on the continental stage, it was clear that Daniel featured way below in Roca’s pecking order. With the club retaining last season’s talisman Miku, chances were going to be limited once again for the striker in the coming season.
Hence, his decision to make the switch to the club in the national capital couldn’t have come at a better time. With the risk of his growth being stunted due to the lack of minutes looming large in Bengaluru, a move to Delhi would have been an easy one to make for the youngster.
If there is one thing the Dynamos showed last season despite their lowly eighth place finish, it was the excellent platform they gave to budding Indian talents. The likes of Lallianzuala Chhangte, Vinit Rai and Nandhakumar Sekar were given plenty of minutes under Spanish coach Miguel Angel Portugal. The improvement in their gameplay by the end of the season was evident to see with the trio establishing a strong Indian core at the club that has been retained for the upcoming season.
With the signing of Daniel, that core has in fact been strengthened. If the striker can show some of the promise he showed at the initial stages of his career, there is no doubt that he will be given plenty of opportunity in Delhi’s setup.
Portugal has now departed for FC Pune City but his replacement Josep Gombau has vouched to carry on the philosophy of promoting young Indian talent. The former Bengaluru striker has already caught the eye of the Spaniard and the early signs look encouraging.
“Players like Chhangte, Vinit and Nandha have really impressed me and then there’s a new signing Daniel who I’ve monitored very closely and I really like him as a player. I am extremely motivated to work with this squad,” Gombau had told Goal in an interview after his appointment.
At his age, it is all about racking up the minutes and as such, there could not be better stage for him currently. Since starting against Cambodia in 2016, Daniel has not earned any further senior Indian team caps. If he can take his chance with both hands at Delhi, that should change sooner rather later.