Interview of Jeje Lalpekhlua: India’s Latest Football Sensation
Jeje Lalpekhlua – The architect behind India’s fantastic run in the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifier, has been the best found of Indian football in many years. Scoring four goals in three matches in his debut series for the India Senior Team, the 20 year old striker from Mizoram is dubbed as the next Bhaichung Bhutia. The former Pune FC striker is also considered as one of the brightest prospect of Indian Football.
Having already represented India in three different age groups including the senior team, Jeje had always stood up to the expectation of the coaches and had been performing consistently throughout. Born as the youngest child to a loving family in a small village of Mizoram, the shy guy had the passion for football right from his childhood. His passion and love for the game drove him from the far corner of the country to the heart of the mainland to live his dream of making big in football.
In an exclusive interview to Babua Biswas of SportsKeeda, he talked about his experiences at the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifier, team mates and whole lot of other issues.
Babua Biswas (BB): Firstly and foremost SportsKeeda congratulates you for your marvelous debut. How are you feeling?
Jeje: I am feeling very happy at the moment. It was indeed a dream debut for me as I had never imagined in my wildest dream. I would like to thank my Coaches, seniors and all my teammates for making this possible.
BB: You scored four goals in three matches and had a superb game in the tournament. Did you ever expect to perform this well in your debut series?
Jeje: No, I had never expected. Even after getting the call I thought I would not even be considered for the starting lineup. But to my astonishment, everything was different out there and it turned out to be much different when I played the game. In fact I am very lucky to debut for the senior side in such a soaring fashion.
BB: Have you spoken to your family after the matches? What was there reaction?
Jeje: Yes, I called them up. Till then they were not even aware of whether I was playing or not because the match was not broadcasted. They all felt very happy for me and encourage me to do better. Dad told me not to get carried away and remain grounded. He told me you still have a long way to go and this is just the beginning. You have to come up with better performance as you are now shouldering the country’s hope.
BB: What was going in your mind before you took the field against Chinese Taipei? Were you nervous?
Jeje: There was nothing specific going in my mind. I was just trying to take it as calmly as possible but yes I was very nervous. It was the first time I was playing for the senior side and that two on such an important game. But once I got to the field and began playing I forgot everything and played my natural game.
BB: What advice did the Coach gave you?
Jeje: Bob Sir told me just be confident, play your natural game. Don’t think much about the outcome just go and enjoy your game. Such encouragement helps a player a lot. I am lucky to play under his guidance.
BB: How have your senior team mates been throughout the camps and the tournaments?
Jeje: They were really good and helpful. Not even once did they make us felt that they were the seniors and we are the juniors. They made us so comfortable. With such seniors in team, your performance is bound to leap with the encouragement and help they offer.
BB: You and Sunil Chhetri instantly came out to be a good striking pair with good understanding. Do you discuss strategy with him?
Jeje: Yes of course. He is my senior striking partner as well as the captain. We discuss whether it’s on the field or off the field. But he always told me to play my natural game and do it to the best of my ability. Talking with him also helps a lot.
BB: You have now played under different Coaches. But what difference did you found playing under Bob Houghton and Desmond Bulpin?
Jeje: I don’t find any difference. You know great people think alike (Laughs). They are both very experience Coaches and they know what to do at what time. It’s a great privilege to be their student. Gouramangi once said that Bob Houghton is an Institution by himself and I seconded him. While Despond Bulpin is a man with vast knowledge of the game and one can never finish learning from him.
BB: Indian football lovers are going crazy over you. You now carry millions hope every time you step into the field. Is this good for you or you feel the extra pressure?
Jeje: Thanks to the Indian football lovers for their love and support. We are nothing without your support. It is your support which motivates and keeps us going. Moreover, with people expecting from me, I am not under any extra pressure. I rather take it as a motivational factor and want to do well from them. More the expectations, more it will motivate me to do better.
BB: Indian Arrows was formed with much hope. But you are placed at the 10th spot at the moment. What position do you think will be a respectable finish for the team?
Jeje: Of course finishing top would be the best (Laughs). But this won’t be possible this season as we are far down the table. A mid table finish would be good for us owing to the fact that Indian Arrows is playing its first I-League. Next season I am sure we will finish in a better position.
BB: How do you feel on being touted as the next Bhaichung Bhutia?
Jeje: It always feels good to be compared with one whom you have always idolized or look up to. But Bhaichung has reached his prime and has done so much for the country. As for me, I have just started off my career and still have a long way to go. So comparing with Bhaichung at this point is not done. It’s too early. I will have to prove myself at the highest level.
BB: Looking back at your life, you started your Journey from Mizoram. So can you tell us about your journey from Mizoram to the Indian National Team?
Jeje: Right from my childhood I was very passionate about football. And I did think of making a career out of it. However my family were little reluctant about it but Dad promise me if I clear my Class X exam he will allow me to play football. Clearing the exam I was admitted to Ari Football Academy in Aizwal and participated in the Wai Wai Cup which is a big football tournament in Mizoram. From there I was selected for the Mizoram U-19 team and from there to the India U-19 team. Then I landed up in Pune FC and then at Indian Arrows. From Indian Arrows I made a cut to the Senior National Team.
BB: Who or what inspired you to take up football?
Jeje: There are many people behind me. Naming a few, it has to be my Dad, then the Mizoram Football Association. But the most important of all would have to be Colin Toal who had done so much for me. I transformed a lot under him. He showed huge amount of faith and trust in me. He inspired me and infuse in the confidence that I can do it.
BB: Who is your favorite football player?
Jeje: Christiano Ronaldo; He is a gem in football. I just love watching him play. And I love Bhaichung Bhutia also.
BB: Which club do you dream to play for?
Jeje: (Laughs) As of now I am happy with where I am. I need to mature more as a player. I need to learn many things more. However I would like to play for a big European club one day.
BB: What else do you like to do when you are not playing?
Jeje: There is no time when I don’t play. I love playing. If I am not playing football I play some game or the other like Badminton.
BB: Can you tell little about your childhood and your family?
Jeje: I was born and brought up in a village in Southern part of Mizoram which is 5 hrs drive from Aizwal. My father is a govt. employee and Mom has a small business. I have an elder brother and an elder sister. So being the youngest in the family I was much pampered and throw tantrums when my wishes were not fulfilled. My football aspiration is also fulfilled because of the tantrums I throw at home.
BB: What are your future plans?
Jeje: I haven’t thought of anything yet.
BB: You defeated Pakistan in football. Do you think Indian team can defeat Pakistan in Cricket as they play the ICC World Cup Semi-final on March 30?
Jeje: Yes they will surely defeat Pakistan. It will be a tough match though as Pakistan is also a good side.
BB: Anyway Jeje, thanks a lot for speaking to us. We hope to see you scoring many more goals and take Indian football ahead. SportsKeeda family wishes you a very good luck.
Jeje: Thank You.