Small places in the North East are producing India’s best sporting legends – Hima Das from a back-of-beyond village in Assam to Jeje Lalpekhlua from a small town called Hnahthial in Mizoram (a 150-km odd drive from Aizawl).
A report published in the The Indian Express stated that Jeje is India’s second-highest paid footballer whose paycheque amounts to Rs 1.3 crores per year. Fondly called ‘Mizo Sniper’ by his friends, Jeje hit the limelight after a spectacular performance at the Wai Wai Cup held in Mizoram and subsequently made it to Mizoram and India Under-19 team.
The report further quoted F Liankima, Jeje’s father, a State Government officer and a part-time footballer, as saying about his son, “His only dream was to become a professional footballer.” Jeje went on to sign for Pune FC, the then 2nd division club and captain India Under 19-in the South Asian Games. But, it was the establishment of Indian Arrows, an All India Football Federation developmental side in 2011 that marked a watershed in his soccer career.
He made his name as a nippy young striker in the country’s highest league and plundered 13 goals from 15 matches for the Indian Arrows. In 2011, he was called up to the national squad for the first time and made his debut against Chinese Taipei in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualification and scored on his debut.
“If I had told people I’ll score a goal in my first match for India, I’d be called a fool. No words can describe what it means to represent your country and score a goal on your debut,” says Jeje.
Today, he boasts of an envious scorecard – he has played 51 matches for India and scored 22 goals with 15 assists. The figures make him arguably one of the best strikers in the country. “When he was young, he struggled a lot in his studies and would spend the whole night studying sometimes. He is that kind of person,” says Jeje’s father.
Though he considers Bhaichung Bhutia to be his “idol”, but he wants to carve a niche on his own in the football arena. Jeje knows that the world of football is not a forgiving place as he says, “You need to be consistent, follow an incredible work ethic and set goals every day. If not, the game will pass you by with no remorse.”
Jeje’s understanding with fellow striker Sunil Chhetri in the Indian National team forms an emphatically lethal striking partnership. “I always stand by the words, ‘Hard work beats talent’ which makes me believe that art of goal scoring can be mastered through practice,” he says.
Indian football team, only for the fourth time in its history will play Asian Cup 2019 in Dubai and Jeje already has his eyes and mind set on the biggest football tournament in the continent. The striker is known to actively promote and play regular charity matches in Mizoram. “It’s a small gesture. I just want to give back to the people who have given me so much,” he says.