March 3, 2021

Whatever happened to Khanthang Paite? The I-League winner whose career spiralled down after joining East Bengal

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The former Churchill Brothers player describes his foray of fortunes and struggles in Indian football…

Khanthang Paite was part of the only Tata Football Academy (TFA) batch to ever qualify for the 2006-07 National Football League (NFL).

With Churchill Brothers, he went on to win the Goa Pro League and Durand Cup in 2008 before helping the Goans land their first I-League trophy in 2008-09. In 2009, they won the IFA Shield along with another Durand Cup title in the same year.

It didn’t stop there as he won the 2010 Federation Cup, back-to-back Calcutta Football League (CFL) titles (2010, 2011) and the 2011 Super Cup with East Bengal. The 2013 Durand Cup and the 2014 IFA Shield were his last set of major honours when he featured at Mohammedan Sporting.

However, since 2014, the pacey winger has not been able to make his way back into the top-tier of Indian football. Goal takes you through the story of Khanthang Paite.

Till date, the Manipuri continues to reside in Kolkata with a job in the Central Excise and Customs department.

“I got a job as a Tax Assistant in 2012 and in 2017 I got promoted as an Inspector. It was only because of football that I got this job in the sports quota,” he told Goal.

Not that the midfielder is done with his playing career. Paite represented Peerless SC in 2015 and fellow-CFL rivals Southern Samity (2016), Customs Club Kolkata (2017) and Mohammedan Sporting last season. “Till now, I am playing in the CFL and now in talks with a few clubs in the CFL,” he added.

“I always signed for a year at a time in the hope that I could get a chance to play in the I-League. I am still trying to make a come-back in the I-League,” he further remarked.

Introduction to Kolkata football

Looking back to where it all started, football was not Paite’s first ambition. “Actually, my father was in the army and when I was in school I was always thinking about joining the army. In school, we all played football and participated in tournaments also.

“I watched my uncle – N. Khenthang Paite – playing football on TV, he used to play for Mohun Bagan and it was a match against East Bengal with so many people at the stadium. That is when I changed my mind, that I want to play football,” the 34-year-old explained.

Khenthang ended up sharing the Bagan dressing room with the likes of Chima Okorie and Somatai Shaiza, but it would not have been possible but for his uncle’s intervention.

“My family was not in favour of me becoming a footballer because they saw how much my uncle had to struggle in order to become one. It took time to convince my parents but first I had to convince my uncle that I want to become a footballer. Initially, he was telling me that ‘it is very difficult, you can get injured’ and all but I had made up my mind that I want to become a footballer.

“So my uncle convinced my family and took me along with him to Kolkata. I was very young, around 15. So I went to Kolkata in the year 2000 and that time my uncle used to play for Tollygunge. I used to go with him during his practice sessions and run around the tracks of the Rabindra Sarobar stadium.”

‘Too young to join TFA’

“One day my uncle asked me if I wanted to attend trials for SAI (Sports Authority of India) at the Salt Lake stadium. So I trialled and got selected. I had a lot of energy in me with my runs and scored twice in a matter of minutes. The coach – Sanjoy Pal – asked my name and told me to sit down,” Paite explained.

“From 2001, I was at SAI Kolkata and that time we used to play in the third division of the CFL. Then I got to know from a newspaper that TFA are to hold trials. Once again, my uncle asked me if I wanted to go for the trials in Jamshedpur because I did not know much during those days. So I said, ‘okay, let’s go’ but only after making an excuse to get a week off (from SAI), because I was a first team player.”

Khanthang was the only one at SAI Kolkata from outside the state at the time and recounted that he was among around 500 others attending the TFA trials after which he had to return to Kolkata where he participated in the local and all-India SAI tournaments.

“My uncle accompanied me to Jamshedpur and the trials were only for three days. They used to select only around 15 players. Luckily, I got a chance for 10-15 minutes. You don’t get more time than that. Ranjan Choudhary sir and the late Vijay Kumar sir both had eyes on me. By the end of the trials, Choudhary sir liked me but called my uncle and told him ‘he is very young, give me your number and I will call when we have the next trials’,” he narrated.

First encounter with the stars

“In February 2002, Choudhary sir called my uncle to inform him that I could attend the trials. My uncle asked me, ‘can you go alone to Jamshedpur?’ because he was playing for Tollygunge that time. So I caught the train and went to Jamshedpur. Luckily, I met a few other boys who were also going to attend the same trials at TFA.

“It was very strict when you attended trials there. You had to have a calling letter or some kind of reference so I also said that Ranjan Choudhary sir called me but the gatekeeper just wouldn’t let me pass because I had no written reference letter. So when Choudhary sir came to the gate he called me in and enrolled my name.”

This time, there would be around 700 attendees and it was the second day of the three-day trials until Khanthang was given a shot. “On the second day, Choudhary sir asked me which position I wanted to play. I told him ‘left wing’. In just a few minutes, I scored twice and then I was told to sit down.

Little did the former East Bengal midfielder know then that he, along with the 40-50 shortlisted players on the final day, had to face a TFA team comprising of players such as Syed Rahim Nabi, Shylo Malsawmtlunga, Subrata Paul and Gouramangi Moirangthem.

“I started on the left wing in the first half. The other players played in the next half. Finally, after getting selected, I started my journey at TFA from March 20th, 2002. I was a junior for two years and a senior for two years,” he stated.

Paite graduated from TFA in 2006 together with the likes of Arindam Bhattacharya, Shilton Paul, Naoba Singh, Robert Lalthlamuana, Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Lalawmpuia Pachuau, Lester Fernandez, Chinta Chandrashekar Rao, Warundeep Singh and Vimal Pariyar among others.

Snubbed East Bengal and Mohun Bagan

Churchill Alemao handpicked Paite and four more TFA cadets after Churchill Brothers lost 2-1 against TFA in the final round of the NFL First Division that was held in Bengaluru, in 2006 – two years before the competition was reintroduced as the I-League 2nd Division.

“Churchill boss (Alemao) himself came down to the ground and spoke with Arindam, Naoba, Warun, Robert and myself. In fact, we (TFA) had qualified for the NFL that season which had never happened before. Carlton Chapman and Vijay Kumar coached us in the final round that time. We tried convincing the managing director of TFA for our batch to be given a stipend to play in the I-League but they were not ready for it,” Paite revealed. 

“I had an offer from East Bengal and Mohun Bagan also but I didn’t want to go there because there were a lot of big players there. So that’s how we all (Naoba, Robert, Warun and Paite) signed for Churchill Brothers [in [2006],” he recalled. Arindam also joined the TFA graduates at Churchill Brothers in 2008.

From Churchill hero to East Bengal surplus

Paite was a regular in the starting line-up when Churchill Brothers won the 2008-09 I-League. But Paite did not enjoy the same amount of game time at East Bengal.

“Arindam was in the goal, left back – Robert, right back – Naoba, Gouramangi and Rowilson Rodrigues were the two stopper backs, (Ogba) Kalu and Chitrasen (Chandam Singh) in the middle, (Reisangmei) Vashum on the right (wing) and I was on the left (wing), Felix Chimaokwu and Odafa Okolie were the strikers,” he named the 11 in one breath.

Declaring that he an offer to join East Bengal in 2009, the nimble-footed attacker said, “Boss (Alemao) told me that ‘whatever East Bengal is offering, I will pay you’. So Robert and I stayed on. Nitu-da (East Bengal official Debabrata Sarkar) came to Goa, spoke to us and in 2011 we (Charan Rai, Robert and Paite) signed for East Bengal.”

Things turned for the worse for Paite as he struggled for gametime and took forth his apprehensions to Sarkar. “I spoke with Nitu-da about my playing time. I told him that ‘I have not come here to sit on the bench’. Then suddenly coach Derrick Pereira asked me if I was interested to join Pune FC (now disbanded). So then I went on loan to Pune FC [in 2012-13].”

Despite three goals and seven assists in the season, the Red Lizards would finish second to his former club Churchill Brothers, Paite found himself out of favour at East Bengal. “When I came back to Kolkata, East Bengal offered very little. Mohammedan also wanted me and they offered me around twice as much as East Bengal were ready to pay,” he exposed. 

Other than donning the national team colours at the U-19 and U-23 level during his time at TFA, Khanthang Paite would not end up featuring for the Indian national team despite his potential.

Like every player, Khanthang also aspired to feature in the Indian Super League (ISL) but unfortunately it did not materialise after he suffered relegation with Mohammedan in 2014.

Overnight, Paite became a forgotten commodity despite the laurels he achieved in his early years. He still harbours ambitions of playing in the I-League again though.