Jeje: ‘We need to work harder to win I-League title’

In an interview with Sportstar, Jeje talks about his form, Indian football and a lot more...

Jeje Lalpekhlua feels Mohun Bagan has had a good season so far.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Nearly six years ago, Jeje Lalpekhlua, a promising youngster from Mizoram, made his international debut for the Indian football team. His rise in terms of skills, performance and consistency has been remarkable over the last four years.

Jeje has always made his presence felt along with skipper Sunil Chhetri, providing stability to India’s forward line. Reflecting on his career so far, Jeje said: “In the 2011 I-League season, I scored 13 goals for Pailan Arrows but unfortunately after that I got an injury and was out for a month. In 2014, I signed for Mohun Bagan from Dempo. That injury period was a tough time for me where my form saw a dip.”

The tough times didn’t last long though and Jeje credits former Chennaiyin FC coach Marco Materazzi for the change in fortunes. “I joined Chennaiyin FC in 2014 and when Marco Materazzi came to India he helped me with my game, he gave me more chances which gave me confidence and playing alongside Elano and Bernard Mendy improved my game a lot.”

In May 2015, Jeje won the I-League with Mohun Bagan. Six months later, he lifted the Indian Super League (ISL) trophy with Chennaiyin FC and was presented with the Emerging Player of the Year award and Footballer of the Year award. In 2016, he was named AIFF Best Player of the Year.

Mohun Bagan is currently placed third in the I-League and has played two games less than Aizawl FC and East Bengal. Jeje, who has scored four goals in 11 appearances for the club this season, was confident Bagan will improve its show. “Our performance has been good this season as we lost only one match out of 12. We still need to work hard if we want to win the I-League so we’ll try to improve more for our remaining matches”.

On India hosting the U-17 Football World Cup this year, Jeje said: “This is going to be a very successful event and it will promote football at a high level in our country. It should be started from the grassroot level and I think U-17 is a perfect time for that.”

“Players like Neymar and Suarez also first started from U-15, U-17 and then went on to play for big clubs. This is also a great platform to get noticed by international clubs. Who knows, a player performing on his day might be selected by any big club,” he said.

India reached 137 in the FIFA World Rankings, its highest since 2009 but Jeje was hopeful of India improving its ranking further. “It is great that we are improving every year and I think as we play more matches against strong international teams, we’ll become much better. We played against Iran, we lost but learnt a lot from them.”

“The players are really doing well with the kind of facilities we get. I am happy that right now we are going in a right direction,” he said.

Both Materazzi and Indian football team coach Stephen Constantine felt Jeje capable enough of playing for clubs abroad but the striker however isn’t thinking too far ahead. “It’s great to play abroad as it improves your game. Till now everything is going well, so in future let us see what happens,” he said.

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