Back on ‘home’ turf

football

A fan favourite at Bengaluru FC, Eugeneson Lyngdoh (left) is looking forward to a good season with the Blues.

Tan Sri Dato' Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium. It's the home of Johor Darul Ta'zim, former AFC Cup champions and six-time winners of the Malaysia Super League. Some 7,059 km away in Bengaluru, more specifically at Bengaluru FC, that stadium is known as 'Lyngdoh's ground'.

It's the ground where Eugeneson Lyngdoh struck straight from the corner in the last minute to force the game to extra time during the AFC Champions League playoff. He would come back, a year later in 2016, to smash in a thunderous strike for a crucial away goal in the AFC Cup semifinal, which BFC would win to be the first Indian team to make it to a continental final.

"That was Lyngdoh's ground," Sunil Chhetri would admit. He would also attest, over the two seasons the midfielder had been away, that the club has never lost sight of their man. It was evident how much it meant to the talismanic number 11 to be the one to announce Lyngdoh's return, which he duly did last month, with a big smile.

"At the end of the season, with me wanting to come here and ATK wanting to offload me, it all fell into place," Lyngdoh says during a chat with DH.

This was a return foretold. One that had been in the making since the moment the Indian Super League draft took him to the eastern shores. It was also one that made sense for Lyngdoh and the club.

“Let’s put it this way, we were not keen on losing him in the first place," says Mandar Tamhane, BFC's CEO. "But the rules were what it was. Bringing him back was always on the agenda. We know how good a player he is. He knows the club very well and the club knows him. He has good connect not only with the dressing room and the fans but also with the city.”

Yes, the city. Lyngdoh’s connect runs deep. Although born in Shillong, he studied at Bishop Cotton Boys School. It was at this club where he grew to a status close to his exalted team-mate Chhetri as evidenced by his 1.05 crore bid at the first ISL auction in 2015, where he racked up goals and assists, made a name as a set-piece specialist, almost single-handedly won games, starred in a team that went to the historic AFC Cup final and won the AIFF Player of the Year. And after a tough couple of years, ravaged by a Lateral Collateral Ligament injury, to reignite his career back to the old heights, there is no place like home.

"This city has always been part of my childhood... I wanted to come back but after the injury, everything just fell back. It does give you the feeling that you're back home. I knew I was going to be comfortable on and off the pitch and that’s what matters the most. Things are going back in the right direction for me," says the 32-year-old.


Eugeneson Lyngdoh at the Bangalore Football Stadium after returning to the club. DH Photo/ B H Shivakumar

The fondness is all too clear to see. "You've started to fall in love with the club and going in the right direction... I was enjoying the kind of football (Albert) Roca wanted us to play. We won the Federation Cup. Then, you're forced to get out of the club because of the draft. I went to ATK, I got injured. Next season a new coach comes in and I'm coming back from the injury, not getting enough opportunities to play. It has been a downslide. Knowing that things could have been different if I'd been here. But that's just life, just carry on."

The midfielder, who dropped out of engineering, remains an engaging company. He talks about the traffic, asks questions about Yulu bikes as a mode of transport. He admits he loves to cycle and go fishing in his free time, speaks about Blink-182 breaking up and his musical interest. It's these things, more than Lyngdoh the player, that will be crucial for the club.

"As a professional, I feel that I have the responsibility to be the kind of senior player who has been at the club before and to bring out my best with the experience here. (Young players) do look up to players and I've always felt that I have a responsibility. The way we act and behave is very important. Show them how to behave on the pitch or off it so that they can be better athletes and be disciplined. It's important for us and me to show that I can be at my best again after the injury. It's important so that kids will have belief in themselves. The old Eugene is still there," he laughs at the end.

The old Eugene, who rose in stature with the stage, who admits 'noise is fuel', who moved to Shillong to play in the I-League from his father's club Rangdajied United - then Ar-Hima - on the condition from the senior that he will not take a salary from the club.

"I realised then, that it was more about football than money. That was my biggest driving force," he says about that decision. A fact, reiterated by his former coach at Shillong and BFC, Pradhyum Reddy.

"It wasn't about the money but opportunity to play with Sunil and to play in the AFC competitions," the coach would say of his move to BFC.

The same player who started five of the six AFC Asian Cup qualifier Group stage match for the country and was instrumental in the earlier rounds before injury ended his chance to participate in the biggest tournament, 2019 Asian Cup.

"It was hard to watch the games obviously (Asian Cup), you being home. I was sad I couldn't be part of it and couldn't have been of any help. It happened that way. Life... you have to take it as it comes. You miss the Asia Cup which you looked forward to but that's how it is," he admits with a shrug.

"What drives me now is that I'm happy when I play football and all I want to do is play. That's the passion that drives me. That is why I want to come back, redeem myself and show I am capable of being the player that I am. It's not easy but that's the positive thought I keep telling myself. I have to build a new future."

There is no place like home to do it.

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