Jeje: I owe a lot to Stephen Constantine

"Stephen Constantine has fine-tuned my movements inside the box. I owe him a lot. He has helped me regaining my confidence. He always stresses that hard work beats talent. I am a firm believer in that," said the forward, who plays for I-League side Mohun Bagan.

Jeje Lalpekhlua (left) in action against Maldives during the 2015 SAFF Suzuki Cup football tournament in Thiruvananthapuram.   -  S. Gopakumar

Jeje Lalpekhlua epitomises a new wave that’s hitting the shores of Indian football – hard working, talented forward, with a never-say-die attitude. Barely 24, Lalpekhlua is already a veteran, having debuted for the national team at the age of 20.

But like many other sportsperson within the country, success hasn’t come easy for the Mizoram-born forward.

“An injury had robbed me of my confidence. I had to bounce back and for that, I realized that I needed to do extra,” said Jeje, in a candid interview with the AIFF media, ahead of the team’s trip to Tehran for the Joint Qualification round. “In modern day football you need to do the extra bit by yourself if you want to excel.”

“Stephen Constantine has fine-tuned my movements inside the box. I owe him a lot. He has helped me regaining my confidence. He always stresses that hard work beats talent. I am a firm believer in that,” said the forward, who plays for I-League side Mohun Bagan.

Indian national team coach Stephen Constantine agreed with Jeje’s mantra for success.

“Jeje is willing to work hard. He is blessed with a good physique. He needed somebody to make him believe that he had the ability. He is a grinder and is an asset,” said Constantine.

Jeje is excited about the new developments in the national team setup.

“For the first time we are using GPS systems during our training and even during International matches. The records are at your face and it’s so much useful to the players,” he informed.

“Unfortunately, we can’t avail such facilities in the Club setup. So it’s up to you to take care of yourself and do that extra bit,” he said.

“Life of an injured player is the toughest. You stay low on confidence and the reality strikes you that you need to it all by yourself.”

History doesn’t favour India which hasn’t beaten Iran in a competitive football match since 1959 but Jeje is hopeful for a change in fortunes.

“It’s hard for the coach to set up the team in such a short duration. He doesn’t have much time. Playing in Iran will be tough. We need to take inspiration from our triumph in the SAFF Suzuki Cup and give or best,” said Jeje, who scored a goal in the final against Afghanistan.

“The Team is slowly gelling together and settling down. There have been 22 new players who have come into the national team. You cannot expect them to excel in international iootball on the first day itself,” he said.

“The most positive part is that none stays sure of his place in the team. The coach wants all to give 100 percent and only the best will play.”

Jeje, a product of the AIFF youth development programme, also made a mention of Colm Toal and Desmond Bulpin, both of whose guidance “laid the platform” for him to shine.

“During my U-19 days I was injured for a long period. But Colm sir (Toal) persisted with me. He kept me in the Camp, didn’t allow me to move out and was patient. I was so much touched. That doesn’t happen with all your coaches. Then in the first season in Indian Arrows, Desmond sir (Bulpin) used to work tirelessly with me to improve on my finishing. Working with them made me confident.”