As part of our NxGn India series, Goal takes a closer look at the most promising young talents in the country. Having revealed the ten potential stars who have found a place in this year's list, it's time for a detailed look at these players who could play a huge part in the country's future.
Next up is Indian Arrows' young goalkeeper Lalbiakhlua Jongte, more popularly known as 'Biakha' among his peers.
The 17-year-old who hails from Mizoram has attracted a lot of attention after putting in good displays under the bar in the I-League this season. He has made nine appearances for Shanmugam Venkatesh's side and helped them keep two cleansheets, one of which came in a morale-boosting 1-0 win over East Bengal.
"As a goalkeeper, my challenge is to keep cleansheets against big teams and players. Physically they are strong (in the I-League), so keeping a cleansheet against them was very important and I always strived for that," Jongte told Goal.
A self-confessed fan of Germany and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Jongte has caught the eye for his excellent reflexes under the bar. He does try and come off his line when required. However, there is room for improvement when it comes to dealing with crosses but that will come with experience.
Jongte is one of those players who had next to zero formal training in his formative years before the All India Football Federation (AIFF) spotted his natural talent and took him in to help polish his ability.
"I loved playing football since my childhood. As a small child, football used to be one of those things that gave me a lot of joy. I used to play regularly in the ground near my house. But I never thought I will play for India (be it a youth team) once. Football is much more than a game for me," Jongte said.
But Jongte's fortunes turned around when the AIFF's U19 team came to play the Independence Cup in Aizawl in 2016.
"I did not go to any proper academy or anything. My first academy was when I joined the U14 set up with the All India Football Federation in Goa. When the India U19 side came for the Independence Cup in Aizawl, the U14 coach was with them. He saw me and I was selected from there," explained Jongte.
The goalkeeping coach, Felix D'Souza, played a huge role in moulding him and so did his current set coaches at the Indian Arrows.
"I would say Felix D’Souza (was an inspiration) for me. He taught me a lot about goalkeeping and his experience helped me a lot. Then there was Bala sir (Balaji Narasimhan) who is with us at Arrows. He helped a lot with my game too."
Jongte quickly made a name for himself with the India age group teams. He helped the U15 side win the SAFF U15 Championship in 2017 before being a part of the India U16 side that reached the quarterfinals of the AFC U16 Championship in 2018. He then went on to help the India U19 side win the SAFF U19 Championship last year.
He was also part of the India U16 team which won a four-nation tournament in Serbia where they managed to defeat Tajikistan in the finals. In fact, Jongte was named the 'Best Goalkeeper of the Tournament' for his valiant efforts.
"It was a great experience for me. We had to deal with a lot of different players with different styles of football. Also they had great facilities. That tournament and experience helped me improve my game and gave me confidence," he said.
After heroics of the ilk, it was no surprise to see Jongte quickly establish himself at Arrows last season in what was his first campaign in senior football. The youngster is staying grounded despite seeing his stock rise. He wants to work hard and ensure he catches up to the levels of some of the best young goalkeepers in the country like Prabsukhan Gill or Mohammed Nawaz.
"I don’t want to think too much about the future. I want to keep improving my game. That is my plan. They (Gill, Nawaz) are all my seniors and they are all great goalkeepers. It is a challenge for me to get to their levels and let’s see where I reach in the future," he added.