Dimapur, Jan. 11 (EMN): When Mesut Ozil burst into the football field, millions of children around the world discovered what they wanted to do in life – play football. Turkish by birth and German by citizenship, he never forgets to mention how much he cares for his birthplace and makes effort to touch as many lives as possible.
One such life that he unknowingly touched in a corner of the world was that of young Bapenyimjong in Nagaland. At the young age of 12, Bapen decided to write the first chapter of his footballing life and enrolled himself at the Nagaland State Sports Academy in 2016 to turn his hobby into a profession.
Although he naturally felt more comfortable playing in the position of a left wing, he complied as a true footballer when there was dearth of left backs in his academy.
Come 2017, the Tata Trusts Centre of Excellence (CoE) at Aizawl, Mizoram began their search for the first batch of hidden talents from the Northeast to be trained by the best coaches and teachers. Out of 400 boys that turned up to find for themselves a spot in the CoE, it was Bapen who impressed the coaches to be sifted out, even while playing in a compromised position.
The lessons he learnt at the CoE resonated in every match that the 14-year-old played in the recently concluded Mizoram U-15 League, where the CoE boys were crowned champions. With seven goals to his name, Bapen also boasts of assisting in several of the goals that helped his team reach the final of the league.
Considering the perception by Nagas with regard to football, or sports for that matter as a career, his dream is to inspire young Naga football enthusiasts and their parents into believing that football is a respectable profession. He dreams of the day, when he can establish his own academy and open up not just for boys, but for girls as well. “Unlike the other north-eastern states, such as Mizoram and Manipur, I feel Nagaland is yet to grasp how much football has to offer. I want to change this perception and make it to the national team so that more people from my hometown, as well as the rest of Nagaland, pay attention to football. If I could do my bit to see more Naga people in the national squad in the years to come, I will feel like I have accomplished something big in life,” said Bapen.
While his immediate goal is to work towards representing India someday, much like his ultimate hero, his heart lies with the people of Nagaland and is hopeful that his hard work and dedication will bring about a day in Naga football when Bapen will be among many others who will follow the footsteps of Dr. T Ao to bring Nagaland football into the forefront.