SAFF Cup: Eugeneson Lyngdoh on juggling the I-League, ISL and playing for the country

Eugeneson Lyngdoh is on top of the world. Over the past year, the 29-year-old midfielder from Shillong has scripted a story that is nothing short of a fantasy. But then again, it's as real as it gets.

Lyngdoh, the recently crowned 2015 AIFF Player of the Year — the crown jewel in his coffer, had a dream of a year with Bengaluru FC -- scoring nine goals and assisting 16. He got his first call-up for India. And he also became one of ISL's most expensive Indian players when FC Pune City splurged Rs 1.05 crore for him.

 SAFF Cup: Eugeneson Lyngdoh on juggling the I-League, ISL and playing for the country

Eugeneson Lyngdoh in ISL.

And yet when Lyngdoh walks into the room with a quiet smile on his face, there's hardly an air of pride about him. The true reward for him his playing for his country. And on 25 December, he'll get to do that again as India gears up for their opening Group A clash against Sri Lanka at the 2015 SAFF Suzuki Cup.

"It's the first tournament I'm playing for the country apart from the World Cup qualifiers and I'm looking forward to it, as any individual would like to play for the country. I want to do my best for the country and everything would sum up by winning the SAFF cup," he said.

It was his dream to play for India since he started out with Shillong club Ar-Hima, now known as Rangdajied United FC. "This is what I played football for."

His incredible journey with Bengaluru FC has propelled him to fame. But Lyngdoh hadn't planned for this.

"Before I signed for Bengaluru FC, I just wanted to sign for Bengaluru FC, because my main aim was to go to the best club and see what I can achieve from it," he explains. "But then, everything happened so quickly, and I'm grateful to God for whatever he has done to me. He's kept me in good health, he's taken me everywhere."

Lyngdoh might deflect credit towards God and his club Bengaluru FC, but it's his ability and hard work that has made 2015 a dream year for him. He has displayed consistency that spans I-League, ISL and the national team. And even though Eugeneson was at his best at Bengaluru FC, the two-month ISL experience at FC Pune City has made him a better player.

"Playing with players who have played in the Premier League in their prime and being coached by David Platt has been a tremendous experience," he said.

At Pune, Lyngdoh teamed-up with Ivory Coast legend Didier Zokora and former Middlesbrough star Tuncay Sanli and learnt a lot from their experience.

"What I've learnt is football is not only about your technique, it's got a lot to do with what you see, your vision and how you read the game," he says.

Lyngdoh has had a busy year. From an all-conquering I-League season to the intense two months of the ISL, and now the SAFF Cup. He was also part of the Indian team for the World Cup Qualifiers. And he believes that fatigue does become a factor for Indian footballers at the top level because of the football calendar and the presence of two top leagues. " We are human after all," he quipped.

He'll hardly have time to breathe as a week after the SAFF Cup ends, the new season of the I-League will kick off.

There has been a lot of chatter about whether I-league and ISL can co-exist. ISL has got all the media attention, the big names and the money — all that the I-League is lacking. But Lyngdoh, like many Indian footballers before him, found success through I-League and believes that it must go on for Indian football to thrive.

"The popularity of football has definitely increased in the country through the ISL because of the media. But irrespective of that, the I-League clubs that have been here all these years actually are important for Indian football. I play football now because I got to play in the I-League, because of all the teams that are over there. And they have done a tremendous job. And I hope that they continue doing what they are and I hope ISL teams do their best for Indian football," he says.

However, I-League has been on the decline. In November, Shillong-based club Royal Wahingdoh FC pulled out of the upcoming season of the country's top football club competition. Pune FC and Bharat FC had already pulled out, taking the tally to three. The next I-League season, which begins on 9 January, will have only nine teams competing. And Lyngdoh is worried about that.

"It'll be nice to play in a league with many teams," he laments.

However, the midfielder is happy with his role in the Indian team. He is happy with the way he is playing football and has no regrets. "I never had doubts about football. The moment I started playing football, I was like, this is it. And now I've spent four years in the I-League, I have not turned back since."

True, there seems to be no turning back for the Bengaluru FC star. And for now, his eyes are set on the SAFF Cup. Even though team India has suffered a few setbacks due to injuries to major players, Lyngdoh believes the team has the depth to go all the way.

"We are a country with an abundance of talent. There isn't any dependence on individual players, we are a team and it's a team game so each and every player in the squad right now does what he is supposed to be doing. We are on the right track."

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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2015 16:06:55 IST