Lallianzuala Chhangte has been a permanent fixture with two-time champions Chennaiyin FC in the last two season of the Indian Super League.
His blistering pace on the flank, clubbed with deft skills and an indefatigable work rate are what make him standout from most other players. And Chhangte believes that working on the basics of football during his younger days is what has made all the difference in his quality on the field today.
“Speed remains one of my strongest points. But I’ve worked very hard on my basic skills to get to this level,” he says.
Here, Chhangte picks out the fundamental skills that he considers to be vital for any footballer’s progress.
Passing and receiving
These two basic tools are the most essential ingredients for any footballer’s success. Accuracy is the key when it comes to passing and receiving. It makes open play fluid and ensures constant progress up the field that can result in creating scoring opportunities.
“When you see top leagues around the world, the ball doesn’t really stop once it is received. It is constantly moving in the direction that it needs to go to build up play,” Chhangte says.
According to him, receiving the ball correctly is the first step, which in turn can open up multiple options to make the right pass. A smooth transition can lead to promising attacking situations.
“If the pass isn’t great, there’s a chance of losing the ball and handing the opposition the opportunity to counterattack. So both these skills work together and need to be executed correctly,” he says.
How to develop this skill: Training with another player by exchanging passes is the most basic drill to develop this skill. You could also play 2v2 or 3v3 games in a very small area to further develop your passing ability. In the absence of a partner, Chhangte suggests passing the ball against a wall and receiving the ball from the bounce back.
Every player needs accurate shooting skills, especially attacking players like Chhangte. During the 2021-2022 ISL season, Chhangte scored a screamer against NorthEast United FC from outside the box, which he says has been a result of the work that he’s put in during the offseason.
“I need to work a lot on my shooting. I always spend extra time working on my shooting skills after regular training. You need to develop power in your shot, but more importantly, you need accuracy and confidence while making the strike,” he says.
How to develop this skill: A simple drill is to shoot at a goal, targeting a very specific corner of the goal to hit the ball towards with each shot. Chhangte recommends a variation to this drill by adding a defender in a 1v1 situation so you further improve your skills for game situations.
When Chhangte had the chance to work with the Liverpool academy in 2016, he observed a stark difference in the way the players approached the game.
“When the Europeans get the ball, they already know where to pass. In India, we receive the ball and then decide which direction to pass. I believe that it’s important to know where you are going to pass even before you receive the ball,” Chhangte says.
How to develop this skill: To pull this off, Chhangte believes that awareness on the pitch at all times is critical. To develop this skill, pay attention to positions of players on the field during matches, whether you are playing or just watching. Chhangte says the ability to make the right decision can only be mastered through experience.
It’s a regular sight to watch Chhangte blazing down the pitch. But the pace can only be productive with the right ball control, balance and dribbling skills to beat the marker.
How to develop this skill: During training, Chhangte creates a grid using cones; then he has the ball at his feet and runs with it at pace around the obstacles, keeping the ball close to his body at all times. Change the positions of the cones every time you practice this drill. Aside from this drill, you could also practice zigzag runs, shuttles up and down, diagonal dribbles and working on each foot individually. As you get better with your dribbling ability, reduce the gap between the cones to make the drill tougher.
“It’s important to work with both the left and right foot. I also find it very useful to have a defender who is constantly trying to take the ball away from you while practicing dribbling,” Chhangte says.
The header can be a vital tool to score goals during open play and in dead ball situations. At the same time, it can be effectively used to clear the ball while defending or to simply make a pass.
By his own admission, heading isn’t Chhangte’s strongest point, given his short stature. Yet it’s something he’s constantly been working on.
“I spend quite some time on headers at training where a partner usually feeds balls to me,” Chhangte says.
How to develop this skill: The most basic drill is to ask a partner to toss the ball that you then head back to them. A more advanced training drill is keepy-uppies with just the head practiced with a bunch of players. For seasoned players, a small-sided game that involves scoring goals with only headers can be quite effective training.
Touch and ball control
A player’s ball control can be critical in building up play, especially at the time of receiving the ball. Chhangte says he developed his ball control skills by simply juggling the ball at every opportunity.
“The idea is to feel the ball as often as you can – keep it at your feet or in the air and just move it around all the time. The more you can manage to do this, the more confident you get about control,” he says.
How to develop this skill: Practice drills in which you have to control the ball with two touches; for example, passing drills in which you receive the ball from a partner and control it with one touch before passing it back with the second touch. Progress to practicing the drill with a single touch. Keepy-uppies are also useful in developing this skill.
Skills and tricks
Chhangte believes it is important to have a few skills in the bag that can help a player beat the defender in 1v1 situations.
“There are a lot of skills that you can pick up from YouTube. The key is to master a few of them that you can confidently pull off in the game, rather than knowing too many that you’re probably unsure of,” Chhangte says.
How to develop this skill: Look up some skills online and practice them over multiple repetitions until you have perfected them to use in game situations. Start with basic skills like the scissors move and progress to complex skills like the Cruyff Turn.
Running off the ball
A lot can be done by a player without the ball being present at the feet. For instance, a well-timed run in space can create multiple attacking chances for the team.
“Instead of attacking 1v1 or dribbling past multiple players, the right run can help beat defenders in a flash and create good scoring opportunities,” Chhangte says.
How to develop this skill: Since he operates on the wings most times, Chhangte usually practices diagonal runs into the middle, where he attacks the ball that has been put through by another player. This is best practiced in match situations.