It is the first match of your club's new season. However, your captain and talisman is suspended. So what do you do? If you are Miguel Angel Portugal, you give a 19-year-old starlet his professional debut in the Indian Super League.
With Marcelinho suspended for FC Pune City's first match of the season, Portugal overlooked the likes of Diego Carlos — who ultimately came off the bench to level the scores — and India international Robin Singh, to start with the young Jakob Vanlalhlimpuia.
The young Mizo forward went from plying his trade in the Mizoram Premier League two season ago, to partnering Emiliano Alfaro and Ashique Kuruniyan in attack in Pune's first match against Delhi Dynamos.
Jakob started in place of the suspended Marcelinho and played for 70 minutes before being taken off for Carlos. Traditionally a striker, Jakob started on the wings against Delhi and struggled to make his mark. However, he has no complaints.
"To be honest, I didn't even think I was capable enough to start but the coach trusted me. It would have been great if we would have won but I feel awesome that I got my debut," Jakob told Firstpost over the phone.
Jakob was signed by Pune City after he played against them in a friendly against Mizo side Chanmari FC. The Mizo forward joined Pune's reserve side in 2017 and played in the I-League's second division in his first year.
Jakob's rise won't come as a surprise to fans who have followed FC Pune City and its predecessor, Pune FC. Established in 2011, Pune were famed for their well-planned academy and FC Pune City have ensured that the academy remains one of the best in the country after taking over the erstwhile I-League club. Pune have seen many of their graduates flourish in clubs across the country as well as being called up to the national side. The Chennaiyin duo of Jeje Lalpekhlua and Dhanpal Ganesh and Mumbai City FC's Amrinder Singh all started their careers at Pune FC.
That Jakob would possibly be included in the first team was hinted at by Portugal at the ISL Media Day when he said that the forward was one of the players who had impressed him during pre-season. He made his Pune City debut in the AWES Cup in Goa. Though he says he hates to play in the heat and prefers the cooler climes of Pune, Jakob scored his first goal for the club in their 1-3 loss to Dempo. That, along with his attitude and hardworking mentality, is what caught Portugal's eye, according to Jakob.
"He (Portugal) appreciates players who work hard and give their all on the field. I did just that in the pre-season. He likes good players but he prefers players who work hard and thankfully, he gave me a chance," Jakob said.
In July 2018, Pune entered into a partnership with Chanmari FC whereby the Maharashtra club will help the Mizo club set up training facilities and coaches. In return, Pune will be able to acquire players from the Chanmari academy in the future.
Having spent a year in Pune, Jakob believes that the move will be highly beneficial for players not only from his home state, but also from the North East. "We (North East players) like to play fast football and Pune's game is similar to what we like. The coaches are very helpful and ensure that players are comfortable and don't struggle in their new surroundings.
"I think FC Pune City is the best club for junior players like me to develop and make it to the ISL. I have improved a lot since coming here. I am better with the ball at my feet and also know how to dictate the play. Before, you could say my style of play was just chasing the ball and running," Jakob said with a laugh.
With a long season ahead of him, Jakob is relishing the opportunity to play alongside the likes of Marcelinho and Alfaro, and hopefully, finding the back of the net as frequently as they do.
Updated Date: Oct 16, 2018 21:02:28 IST