Seldom has a story been that a local single-venue event been the nursery for scores of footballing talents, with some even going on to win the top division league of a country. That is exactly what the Mizoram Premier League (MPL) has been for the state of Mizoram and more importantly Indian football over the last five years.
The Mizoram Premier League kicks off for its sixth season at the Assam Rifles ground in Lammual from 31st August onwards.
History of MPL
Under the aegis of the Mizoram Football Association President, Lal Thanzara, the state body signed a lucrative five-year deal with a local television channel worth ₹ 1.25 crore to telecast a revamped version of the state's football league back in 2012.
The idea was to make the Mizo people fall in love with football all over again after years of obscurity with the help of high definition telecast during prime time slots. The first season kicked off on 24th October 2012.
An instant hit among the masses, the first edition of the MPL saw packed houses at the Assam Rifles ground in Lammual, newly refurbished for the 2012 Northeast Games.
Ever since, talents from the MPL have been scouted by teams from the I-League. With many owing the success of the MPL delivering the 2014 Santosh Trophy to Mizoram, Aizawl FC, one of the founding team of the league went on to become the first Mizoram club to play in India's top-tier league, the I-League in 2016 and then rewriting history books to become the champions earlier this year, only in their second season of top-flight football.
Zonet, the official broadcasters have renewed their deal for the next five years starting the sixth edition for a total sum of ₹ 1.50 crore.
The inaugural season saw Dinthar FC lift the crown as Chanmari FC followed up with their 2013/14 triumph. The next two years belonged to Aizawl FC but Chanmari FC came back again in 2016/17 to join Aizawl FC as the joint two-time winners of the MPL.
2012/13 - DINTHAR FC
2013/14 - CHANMARI FC
2014/15 - AIZAWL FC
2015/16 - AIZAWL FC
2016/17 - CHANMARI FC
Format & Venue
The current season will follow the same format as it has been since its inception. Eight teams play each other twice in dual round-robin league system.
After 14 rounds, the top four teams progress to the semi-finals. The eighth placed team is relegated to the Mizoram First Division League while the seventh placed team will have to face a relegation play-off with the runners-up of the second-division to retain their top-flight place for next season.
The semi-finals are a two-legged affair with the winners culminating to play in the grand finale. All the matches will be played at the Assam Rifles ground in Lammual.
Teams & Fixtures
BETHLEHEM VENGTHLANG FC
CHANMARI WEST FC
CHHINGA VENG FC
MIZORAM POLICE FC
RAMHLUN NORTH FC
The defending champions will be hoping to emulate what they did last term and lift the trophy again. Chanmari FC, who have a strategic alliance with Indian Super League (ISL) side FC Pune City are a force to reckon with in the MPL having appeared in four of the five finals, winning two.
However, the loss of foreigners Ugo Godswill and Leonce Dodoz will create a huge void but the team will bank on its all Indian squad, bolstered by the signings of PC Zosanga, Jakob Vanlalhlimpuia and former Shillong Lajong Academy player Joe Zoherliana.
KEY PLAYERS - Jakob Vanlalhlimpuia, Rosanga.
The Reds will now have heightened expectations to regain back their crown after becoming I-League champions last season. New coach Jorge Menezes will aim to pick up from where Khalid Jamil left but will need to manage his resources well with a totally revamped squad at The People's Club.
The rivalry with Chanmari FC intensifies after their shock semi-final ouster last season where they lost to the eventual champions 6-2 on aggregate. Most notably, Chanmari FC were the finalists on both occasions when they won the MPL twice in 2014/15 and 2015/16.
KEY PLAYERS - Alfred Jaryan, Kareem Omolaja Nurain.
Players to watch out for
SHYLO MALSAWMTLUANGA (Aizawl FC)
The veteran, who was the very first footballer from the state to earn a professional contract with East Bengal in the early 2000s returns to his home state at last. Pulling on Aizawl FC colours, the living legend of Mizoram, 'Mama' will make his MPL debut at the age of 32.
MALSAWMFELA (Chhinga Veng FC)
The Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner of MPL 2015 returns after an unfruitful loan spell at Chennai City FC in the I-League last time. However, he switches camps to Chhinga Veng FC after helping Chanmari FC clinch the title last year with his 11 goals and 5 assists.
DAVID LALRINMUANA (Aizawl FC)
It will be all about redemption for the former Aizawl FC man who comes back to the MPL where he won the Player of the Year award for two consecutive seasons. After captaining Aizawl FC to two MPL titles, the I-League 2nd Division and the Federation Cup final, the midfielder's career went downhill ever since the end of the 2015/16 season ended.
A failed stint with Mumbai City FC in the ISL and a troubled I-League 2017 season with East Bengal nearly saw the 24-year-old pushed into oblivion. However, he returns for the Reds and with the armband passed on to Alfred Jaryan for the season, Rinmuana can vindicate himself and knock on the doors of national selection again.
Follow Swapnaneel Parasar on Twitter - @Swapyo