CHENNAI: Jeje Lalpekhlua has been one of the prominent faces of Indian football for a while now. The 27-year-old striker has won the ISL with Chennaiyin FC and the I-League with Mohun Bagan in addition to the three SAFF Cup titles for India. He is also the all-time highest Indian scorer in ISL with 20 goals.
In both I-League and ISL, where teams are employing foreign strikers for goals, Chennaiyin, who are second with 23 points, have relied solely on Jeje. And the forward repaid coach John Gregory’s faith with seven strikes. He had also recently gone past John Stiven Mendoza’s tally of 17 goals to be Chennaiyin’s all-time top-scorer.
Now, in his 10th year as a professional, he insists that he is just getting started. “I am only 27 and the next three years should be my prime. I am more matured now and my position sense has developed. I can anticipate a pass better because my game reading has improved. Playing as a lone striker, I know my responsibilities. So I try to pump in as many goals as possible so that my team doesn’t miss a good foreign striker. That’s my target,” Jeje told TOI on Friday.
In order to achieve his objective, Jeje has a back-breaking training schedule. “You can survive on talent for four-five years. But to sustain in the long run, you need to toil hard. After practice, I stay back at the ground longer than others. I work on a set of muscles needed by strikers and then I focus on polishing my finishing skills. I also try to improve my ability to get into the right position inside the box. I have noticed that even if you are quicker by a second or get ahead of your rivals by a yard, it makes a huge difference,” Jeje pointed out.
While the Mizo forward has been central to Chennaiyin’s success, he knows his form will be key to the Indian team’s chances. Stephen Constantine‘s side will look to continue from where they left off last year, remaining unbeaten in 13 matches. Ahead of next year’s AFC Asian Cup, the team will again hope to break into the top 100 in FIFA rankings for the second consecutive year. Jeje feels working with both English coaches — Gregory and Constantine — has helped him evolve.
“In pre-season, I was trying to gauge what exactly Gregory wanted from me and was finding it difficult to cope up with his strategy. But, I am absolutely in sync with his playing style now. He has told me to fall back and defend because he feels the striker is the first line of defence. That’s the difference between Gregory and (Gregory’s predecessor) Materazzi. Materazzi saw me as the fox in the box and I would often play second fiddle. Now I need to chase every ball. It helps me to focus more. Constantine also expects the same from me and I can adapt to both styles easily,” he said. Source : timesofindia