As we edge closer to the resumption of the Hero I-League season, one of the stalwarts of Indian Football who has been mesmerising fans over the years, has decided to call it a day on his career as a professional footballer. Lalrindika Ralte, popularly known as Dika among his teammates, is someone who has played the game professionally for over a decade, winning accolades from across the land, and also for the country.
As Ralte looks forward to the next chapter in his life, caught up with him to talk about memories of the past, and plans for the future. Upon his retirement from the ‘beautiful game,’ Ralte feels that it is time for him to spend more time with his family, something that becomes difficult as a professional footballer.
“It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve taken in my life so far. Could I have played for a couple of more seasons? Maybe. But I took the decision to retire with my family in mind. Nothing is more important than family,” Lalrindika said.
“I have to take care of my wife and kids, and also my parents. They have also been asking me to spend more time with them, and that is something that becomes a bit difficult as a football player. So, I decided to hang up my boots,” he stated.
However, the former attacking midfielder made it clear that retirement from football does not mean that he will be moving away from the game that he has loved.
“This does not mean that I will be leaving football altogether. I do have plans to get into coaching in the future, maybe build my own academy in the Lunglei village, here in Mizoram,” said Ralte. “I very much want to be around football; I want to keep working for Mizoram football and for Indian football.”
Didika is the first player to make it professionally, from his village, but more have followed suit in the following years. The likes of Blue Tigers winger Lallinzuala Chhangte and Edmund Lalrindika are currently carrying forward the love for football that Ralte had started in his own village.
“People in our village love football. I may be the first one from my village to play professionally, but there have been many who love the game and would have loved the chance. Of course, the facilities that are available to everyone to help them become an athlete is not something that we had access to back in those days. I want to make sure that the next generation of kids can access these things,” he said.
Being the first professional footballer from his village, Dika may be an inspiration now to the youngsters of Lunglei, Mizoram. However, he had a similarly drawn inspiration from another legend of Indian football back in his younger days.
“In terms of playing style, I loved watching Sunil Chhetri and Zinedine Zidane when I was young. But my real inspiration was Mama (Shylo Malsawmtluanga),” informed Dika. “I did not get to see much of his game in his prime, but he was the first professional footballer from Mizoram, and he showed us all the way.”
“When we first heard that there was someone from Mizoram who made it to one of the big clubs in Kolkata and was doing really well there – it motivated me. As a youngster, it gave me the belief,” he recalled. “Before him there were no Mizo footballers out there, but reading about him, and hearing about him motivated so many of us youngsters who wanted to play football.”
The midfielder is one of those few players who was lucky enough to play in the same team as his idol when he joined East Bengal back in 2012. “It was such an honour to play with him in the same team. He was towards the end of his career back then, but the amount we all learned from him was immense. He really is kind, and a good human being,” Didika informed.