For a player widely regarded as one of Indian football’s best ever, Jeje Lalpekhlua resides in a peculiar distinction of terms equally fancied and unfancied. Having been nominated three times by the All India Football Federation for the prestigious Arjuna Award that establishes therefore the immense credibility enjoyed by this star of the game, the Mizoram born Lalpekhlua however has been snubbed rather curiously each time he was nominated in the years of 2017, 2019 and 2020. And while individual awards mean the least to someone as prolific as the AIFF Men’s Player of the Year for 2015- 16, it however had been the very evident trails of foul play undermining this charismatic Indian striker on every occasion that led his numerous spectacular achievements on the football field to be dismissed almost in consideration that weighed down heavily indeed upon the mind of this die hard football fanatic to even have him contemplating a much, much earlier retirement from the international arena.
Thankfully for Indian football though, this golden boy of the game chose instead to ridicule his non earning of the award by consistently upping his frenzy for the sport he so passionately pursues despite it all. And for more than a decade now since his breaking into the ranks of the Indian National Team as a U 23 talent, Jeje Lalpekhlua has been enthralling one and all with his impeccable skills as a forward who along with captain Sunil Chhetri has scripted many a golden tales of victory for India. Also, as the second highest active goalscorer for the country next only to his illustrious skipper, the 31 year old Mizoram player is indeed one of the gems of the game in a country now increasingly awestruck by the sheer diversity of talent stemming from upon a pitch that for once does not identify as the 22 yards long one of the cricketing world.
The under 23 claim to fame might have been what propelled Lalpekhlua’s national and consequently international career but the fact that he was just 19 when he made his senior debut for the national team speaks of a legacy that the young still footballer already boasts of at such a young age. An integral part of every team he plays for, that which is but given with his on point goal scoring abilities but that which also draws upon essentially on his overall flair with the ball, his is a case of the heroics that interestingly stems from his belief in hard work being always the greater factor over talent in eking out success from struggles.
Hailing from the small village of Hnahthial in the north east Indian state of Mizoram, Lalpekhlua’s fancy for football though does not spring much of a surprise. With his father and brother both having played the sport for a local club even as his uncle F Lianhmingthanga furthered this passion in professional terms by going on to represent the state in the Santosh Trophy, it was only natural that Jeje too would grow up to harbouring a special fondness for the game. That however did not mean that the road was always well defined for a young Jeje at least in terms of what he would go on to pursue since professional playing of the game wasn’t something his family exactly advocated for. But it perhaps was destiny that beckoned for the then still a teenager Laplekhlua as putting up a strong performance at the Wai Wai cup held in Mizoram earned him a place in the Mizoram U- 19 team.
And it was surely not the case of a one match wonder that Jeje Lalpekhlua would turn out to be. In fact in each of the years that followed since his debut, the young gun blazed his way all through to command for himself vital place in the national team. Riding on the back of his goal scoring spree rather early in his career, Jeje landed the FPAI Best Young Player Award for 2010- 11 as well as the I-League Top Indian Goalscorer Award the same year following it up with the 2013 AIFF Emerging Player of the Year Award, the Indian Super League Top Indian Goalscorer Award 2014, the 2015 Indian Super League Emerging Player of the League, the Top Indian Goalscorer Award in the 2015 SAFF Championship, the Federation Cup Top Goalscorer and the Best Player for the 2015- 26 season as well as the ultimate recognition of the AIFF Player of the Year Award in 2016.
Having earned the distinction of scoring his first international goal on debut in both the U-23 and senior levels, Lalpekhlua established quite early on in his career his prowess when it comes to dabbling with the ball. Going on to further reinstate this stellar way he had with the ball, commanding it not just for his own but also lending as exemplarily to aid the goal scoring potential of his teammates as well, the now 56 capped player has to his credit titles like the 2014-15 I-League, the 2015-16 Federation Cup, the 2015 and 2017-18 seasons of the Indian Super League, the 2009, 2011 and 2015 events of the SAFF Championship and the 2018 Inter Continental Cup to speak for themselves about many of the instances when this not very physically towering personality towered over the football ground with his phenomenal indeed sporting exploits.
This measure of his immense potential and parallelly unmatched dedication might present the profile of Jeje Lalpekhlua as a footballer for whom the journey has always been one of laurels. In all his strategic positioning of himself as a footballer moments away from sending over and over again an entire nation of people into a tizzy with his many a defining kicks of the ball, this Mizo player has been sensational indeed in various capacities in the footballing realm. Particularly teamed up with skipper Chhetri to make for a duo lethal in their delivering of such strikes that stumps those in the opposition and delights those sending out chants of ‘India’, the explosive striker is resident in an image of confidence and power and purpose that has led him very often to be lauded as the poster boy of Indian football. And yet for all his fame in being one of the Indian greats of the game, Jeje hasn’t exactly enjoyed throughout his career the dream run that however is what is most known for.
For quite some time after his memorable debut and before his career defining stint in 2015-16, Jeje continued to hold the promise of being possibly one of the more potent prospects Indian football bore within its confines. So much so that it was the emerging distinction that catered to the Indian forward for a considerable period of time over the by then well overdue established recognition, helped not just by his loss of form but also by a continuing spree of injuries that could have well sidelined his career.
In fact injuries have been rather prominent a occurrence in all of Jeje’s time pursuing his own way with the ball, with a more recent one threatening to debilitate his entire career. For more than two years since 2019 it had been a knee surgery that kept the striker out of international action. That however has not done much to dent the footballer’s chances in claiming for himself the name as well as the bucks, raking in big time in his consistent prevailing as one of the highest earning Indian players at the Indian Super League. And that itself speaks for the enormous validation that the Mizo sniper has availed for himself courtesy indeed his tremendous effort, earning comparison with another Indian great Bhaichung Bhutia as well as drawing praises and appreciation from many a doyens of the football world whether that be the Indian skipper Suniel Chettri himself or former Italian player Marco Materazzi among others.
It though is easy to see wherefrom and how this earning of acclaim came to characterise the footballer more than crucial a component today of the national team. Of course it is Jeje’s belief in hard work trumping all that holds the key to his success but also factoring in is his self confidence that has him setting himself newer goals to achieve every single day. For someone who plays to outrank his own self and seeking to prove therefore to no one else but himself what he is capable of, the Indian forward has charted out a path that leads only to the path of greatness. He might be more than well settled now in his role as a striker, managing to find the net ever so often but Lalpekhlua did not really start off as someone always on the lookout for goaling. It instead had been a peculiar admission of the desire to become famous that led this former left back to assume instead the responsibility of being a scorer.
And to good avail as well, since from the very day of his specifying that role for himself, Jeje Lalpekhlua has been continuously doing exactly that. Having won every single trophy in Indian football with some of the country’s top clubs and having been equally impactful in his many an international showdowns, it is no wonder that Lalpekhlua has very often found recommendation for being the next captain of the national football team. And that is not just a passing remark by those impressed by his many a feats of diverse measure on the ground. Equally steeped in the leadership qualities of what would make for a great captain is this great already footballer from Mizoram who might not have been deemed such by the higher authorities long sidelining him for one of the highest of sporting honors perhaps in his north eastern origins as speculated but who in all his impeccable skill and defiant hard work as well as in his innate nature as an exemplary indeed human is no any lesser off without a recognition that in fact has somehow managed to shine even brighter the spotlight on this shining star of Indian football.