Striker Jeje Lalpekhlua has come a long way since first bursting onto the Indian football scene. The young Mizo is set to captain the India Under-22s in the AFC Under-22 Asian Championship qualifiers in Oman. A new responsibility for Jeje, who talks about a number of things before the qualifiers kick-off tomorrow with long-time friend and team mate Lalrindika Ralte adding his bit here and there.
How has life changed after being named India’s captain for AFC U-22 Championship qualifiers?
Change — what is that? (Jeje bursts into laughter). I had earlier led India in the AFC U-19 Championship. A footballer’s life doesn’t begin and end with captaincy. My life hasn’t changed either. I have always stayed committed to my country’s cause and this time too, it’s no different.
The moment he finishes, Jeje’s room partner Lalrindika Ralte with a mischievous grin, adds: “He is the Big Boss now.” And both burst into laughter.
Is captaincy an added responsibility or a burden?
It depends on how one looks at it. To me a true captain is someone who leads off the field. As a Captain, you need to set an example and when Head Coach Arthur Papas announced it in the team meeting, I felt very excited. I have been lucky enough that I already enjoyed a great rapport with each of my team members.
You are a regular member of the Senior India side. Do you look upon yourself as a Senior in this Under-22 squad?
You must be kidding. Despite my brush with the Senior India side, I’m still a learner. I’m very comfortable in this U-22 squad as there are so many old batch mates who are playing alongside me. There’s Gurpreet (Sandhu), Abhishek (Das), Dika (Lalrindika Ralte), Manandeep (Singh), Deepak (Devrani), Ravi (Kumar), Vishal (Kumar), Prathamesh (Maulingkar) with whom I’ve played since the U-19 level and with the Indian Arrows.
Dika, sitting next joins in. “If there’s anyone who deserves to lead India, it’s Jeje. He’s a disciplined guy and can set an example for us all,” he quips.
What do you bring from the Senior India team to this squad?
The discipline and the experience. At the senior level, there are so many stars but they never threw their weight on me. That was a huge learning experience for me. I want to walk the same path. I’m a senior and a junior at the same time.
Arthur Papas has been stressing on a new style of play since he took over. What’s your take on that?
The benefits of the new style of play will reap fruits in the future. He has been stressing on possessional play and the build-up often starts from defence. It’s not that we adjusted to the style on the first day itself but we have been flexible and have settled down fast.
Dika added: “During the initial phase, instinct prompted us to play the manner we have been sticking to for the last few years. But Arthur has been patient and supportive.”
How do you rate Arthur Papas as a Coach?
He’s sharp, energetic, caring and an intelligent person. He explains with passion and instills a sense of self belief among the players. He’s very clear on what his priorities are.
Dika nodded. “He’s a no-nonsense man. He has implemented some rules within the camp and he leads from the front. His sessions are fun and enjoyable.”
Published with permission from Arunava about Football.