He might not have an intimidating physique, nor is he as fast as Theo Walcott or Gareth Bale, but his swift moves in the box and anticipation of the game have made him one of the most sought after forwards of Indian football today. Jeje Lalpekhlua, the 22-year-old Mizorami boy has come a long way from the hills to make a name for himself in the Indian footballing circles. In a candid interview with Sportskeeda, the shy but confident guy shares the lesser known facts about his football life, his new commitment to Dempo, and many other insights.
Q. It’s been more than a month since you have moved to Dempo SC. In the past you have been quoted that Dempo could be one of your dream destinations. Could you tell us more about that?
Jeje: The last three months have been fantastic. It’s no secret at all that Dempo was one of my dream destinations. Finally coming through to the club so early, I feel very happy!
Q. Growing up in a state like Mizoram, which is considered to be a tourist destination for many, who do you think was the one person who nurtured in you the dream of becoming a footballer and the next Baichung Bhutia?
Jeje: It was not easy. Nor was it as difficult as it would have been when Bhutia was of my age. Things have taken a positive change with respect to football in Mizoram. No one in my neighbourhood ever discouraged me from making a career in football. Today this might have been possible because of the Bhutia effect. My coaches, school and even my well wishers never said a ‘no’ to my decision of becoming a footballer. It certainly was a struggle during my initial days, because of the lack of either a footballing kit or training. But if those aspects are overlooked, things were pretty good when it came to football in my state. Moreover, a healthy competition prevailed in all age group. So the task at hand was also not an easy one.
Q. You spoke about growing up in Mizoram and about your well-wishers and coaches hoping the best for you. What was your family’s reaction to your career choice, as many are aware that football in India is not a sought after sports profession like that of cricket?
Jeje: Just like most of the households in India, academics did get priority in my family too. But my dad knew that I had a very strong inclination towards football, and that I was good at it. Though he was never vehemently against me for choosing football over academics, he made sure that I spent enough time with my books before I could wear my boots.
Q. Starting your career with Pune FC, moving on to Pailan Arrows on loan for a season and again coming back to Pune FC for another – how fruitful has your journey been so far?
Jeje: I consider myself lucky to be initially picked up by Pune FC when I was just 17 years old. Pune FC back then used to play in the second division I-League. Since then the journey has been very fruitful. I got an opportunity to play under some very good coaches like Derrick Pereira and Athur Papas at Arrows. It’s been a learning experience, an experience which I have enjoyed completely. I desire to continue my learning stint here at Dempo too.
Q. Arthur Papas was the head coach of the U-23 Indian team, which you led as captain in the AFC Cup (Qualifiers). And now, Arthur is the head coach of Dempo SC. Is this one of the reasons why you chose Dempo over other I-League clubs?
Jeje: Yes, it is one of the reasons why I chose Dempo over any other club in India. (Arthur) Papas is very well aware of my playing style and I believe that I could be a perfect fit into his footballing philosophy. So when Dempo approached me, I never had any second thoughts about my future in this professional setup.
Q. Jeje, could you describe your playing style to the readers? Are you an attack minded player or a defensive one?
Jeje: I’m a natural striker; hence attack mindedness is always expected from me. My job is to score goals and be quick and agile in the final third so that I can convert all the possible chances into goals for my team. I always try my best to be in the right place at the right time as it’s one of the important traits of any footballer. But if required, I can also adapt to a defensive or more of a holding role. In the past I have also played the role of sweeper behind the forward or a false 9 position.
Q. Have you set any personal goals to be achieved when with Dempo SC?
Jeje: Yes I do have certain goals, but I would not call them personal, as they are more of team goals. I would like to improve my game and help the team achieve more glory during my tenure with Dempo. I assure the club that I’ll put in my 100 per cent and grab every opportunity which the gaffer provides me with.
Q. Finally Jeje, what would be your message to the Dempo fans who are eagerly waiting for the team to get into its winning mode in the I-League?
Jeje: For the fans, my only message would be – trust in your team, the season is not yet over! We will surely bounce back very soon, in predictable fashion. So do come out and support us during our games in Goa.