The Left Back Conundrum : A Problem of Riches

Tuesday, 7 February 2017|Anubhav Roda

LEFT BACK is a position that gives coaches all around big headaches, scrambling for players perfect for that position. The options are really limited everywhere. Moreover, identifying a naturally left-footed or two-footed is an even bigger pain. The situation prevails all across with even few top clubs and countries failing to plug the gap.

With football not seen as a serious profession and a handful getting into it, the problem further escalates in a country like India.

India though had a few decent names in the department over the years with the likes of Alok Mukherjee, Nazimul Haque, Shyamlal Banerjee, M Suresh, Syed Rahim Nabi doing well in the left-back position and making it their own, they pretty much were the only names around their times in that particular position. 

They helped India achieve success and became names worth remembering. But with the new wave in Indian football, the left-back position seems to be the one thriving the most.

Moving on from the likes of Samir Naik and Nabi; the position has had a facelift over the years and seems the richest currently with a big pool of players vying for the spot. The emergence of young talent in the left side of defence has made for a situation of “spoilt for choices”. 

The current India left-back Narayan Das leads the way. A Tata Football Academy product, Narayan Das was a part of the ambitious Pailan Arrows project and was a regular in the team, featuring 22 times for the side.

Narayan is not only adept at defending but the 23-year-old only young and possessing a bundle of energy, is equally potent in the opposition’s half and is never shy of making forward runs, putting in crosses or even taking shots that saw him score twice for Pailan in his debut season with a goal for India following. 

A naturally attack minded player, Narayan does well to move up and down his flank and graduated from the India U-19 and U-22 ranks into the senior setup in no time.

Das has also played in the ISL and has been an integral part of FC Goa and lately, FC Pune City putting in consistent performances for his sides.

The one man constantly pushing Das is Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte, commonly known as Sena Ralte. Born in the football rich state of Mizoram, Ralte began his career with Esthar F Academy. His talent was soon spotted and the diminutive figure joined the youth ranks of Royal Wahingdoh, before making it to the senior team to play in the 2nd Division in 2014. 

Ralte was a key figure that helped Wahingdoh earn promotion to the I-League and continued to impress in the top tier as well.

Ralte’s performances earned him an ISL contract and though he played a handful of games, he went on to impress again for DSK that saw Mumbai City vie for his services. The 28-year-old did not disappoint and kept Mumbai going.

Very similar to Narayan Das in nature, Ralte too is attacking and has flair in his play, equally good in either third of the pitch. 

Ralte’s recent performances have been brilliant, including a scorcher on his I-League debut for Bengaluru FC this season. He is certainly pushing for a starting place in the Indian side.

These are not just the two names in the fray. The likes of Dhanachandra Singh and Gurjinder Kumar too are in the mix with both experienced pros being a part of the setup. Both have had their time in Indian football and have given account of their performances for their respective side.

While Dhanachandra is naturally left-footed, Gurjinder is a two-footed player. Dhana is a veteran having represented hosts of clubs in the I-League, right from Air India to Churchill Brothers, Mumbai FC, Prayag United to Mohun Bagan. The 29-year-old has also been a part of the Chennaiyin FC in the ISL and has been their preferred player for the position.

Gurjinder too has a fair bit of experience in the Indian circuit with Pune FC and Salgaocar FC before heading to FC Pune City.

Both though are seasoned players but have been plagued with injuries lately, pegging them further back in the pecking order. For these two to get back into the fray and make a statement for an inclusion, they would need to work on their fitness with the demands of the position being high. It would be interesting to see how things unfold for the two.

This is not it. The roster for the left-back position continues. The young Jerry Lalrinzuala, who was a part of the AIFF Elite Academy was one of the 5 players to head to FC Metz for training. On his arrival to India, he was inducted in the Chennaiyin FC side and with Dhanachandra injured, got his chances and boy, he made it count. Jerry was one of the standout players in the ISL and rounded up a sensational season with an eye-cracking free kick. 

The ISL Emerging Player of the Season is one to watch out for the future and shall surely fight to break into the senior side in the next couple of years or so.

Another one of the young guns on the radar is Aizawl FC’s Lalruatthara. The youngster started off his career with the Chandigarh Football Academy before representing Mizoram at the U-17 level, winning the Subroto Cup and progressing to the senior side, where he won the Santosh Trophy with the side.

He then signed his first professional career with  I-League 2nd Division club Luangmual F.C. before making a switch to Chanmari FC. He impressed one and all and was soon taken by the I-League side Aizawl FC and subsequently, the ISL side Delhi Dynamos.

A fairly tall customer for a full-back position, Lalruatthara has good pace and ability to cross in addition to his prowess at defending, though he needs a tad bit of improvement there. He also recently scored a goal against Shillong Lajong.

Nishu Kumar too has been an impressive name in the department and has featured fairly regularly for Bengaluru FC. He could be another name in the mix moving forward.

To add to this list, there are names like Robert Lalthlamuana, Prabir Das, Souvik Ghosh, Reagan Singh, Subasish Bose and Chinglensana Singh who though aren’t natural left back but can be deployed in the position and only young. Then there are also the likes of Mandar Rao Desai and CK Vineeth who have previously played as wing-backs for their respective ISL sides who could be handy in the position in a situation where a coach wants to play a different formation with 5 at the back.

This make things at the left back position look rosy and the options, fairly rich for the National Team. But is this enough at the club level? No...This is the position aspiring footballers can work to develop themselves.