AIFF Academy product Jeje Lalpekhlua is one of the hottest properties in Indian football today. After making his senior international debut at the age of 19 in 2011, the ‘2013 AIFF Emerging Player of the Year’ has climbed up the ranks to be the ‘2016 AIFF Player of the Year’.
After being declared the recipient of the award, the national team striker spoke at a length to www.the-aiff.com about his feelings, AIFF’s contribution towards his career, his best moment in 2016 and much more.
Whom do you like to dedicate this award?
Wherever I am today it’s mostly because of my family. I dedicate it to them.
What does the Award mean to you?
It’s the Award which every Indian Footballer looks forward to. It feels great and I am thankful to all my coaches who put their faith on me.
I am also immensely grateful to AIFF because it was there the journey began from. The Academy in Goa under Colm Toal laid the platform for me and so many others to dream about bigger things.
You have been outstanding this year. Did the award come to your mind?
It never struck my mind till I got the news from AIFF. When you train or hit the ground for a match, you can’t afford to think about the awards.
But yeah, Awards motivate you and it feels great when your hard work gets recognised. I am extremely thrilled about joining the elite list. If you look at the ones who have received the AIFF Player of the Year Award in all the previous years, I found out they all are my idols.
You mentioned at the beginning at the AIFF Academy. How much do you cherish those days?
Those were the days. We just had a dream and needed guidance but didn’t know where to go. It came from AIFF’s efforts and our lives kicked-off. The exposure, the training, the discipline imparted made all of us what we are today.
From the Academy in Goa, we moved to the Indian Arrows where our batch finished fifth in the then I-league. Mind you, we were all 21-year olds and didn’t have any foreign recruits in our ranks.
I am proud to be an ex-AIFF Academy cadet.
‘AIFF Emerging Player of the Year’ in 2013 to ‘AIFF player of the Year’ in 2016- does it complete the circle for Jeje Lalpekhlua?
For a footballer, nothing marks the completion. It’s about manoeuvring the targets. Looking back I feel that my hard work really paid off. That’s the reason of this award, the recognition from none but AIFF, who nurtured me since the wee days.
How much have your teammates played a role in the Award?
Massive! I have been very fortunate to have an amazing bunch of players around me, right from Mohun Bagan to Chennaiyin FC to the National Team. It’s like a cohesive unit who gel well quintessentially. I also want to take this opportunity to thank all my teammates. Unless they had been so supportive towards me, this award could not have seen the daylight.
I also need to thank the Coaching staff of both the Clubs that I have played this year and obviously from the National Team.
Looking back, what was the most pleasant moment for you in 2016?
Every moment has been really special to me. In fact, it’s not about me, rather it’s about ‘us.’ We won the SAFF Suzuki Cup at the starting of the year, ran a rout against Laos, achieved a jump in our FIFA Rankings.
By God’s grace, I found the net more often even for my clubs. I only pray the dream run continues in the coming years as well. I won’t get bored receiving this award year after year (chuckles)!
(Interview & Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)