Chennai: Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory would be most delighted that his team’s red-hot player is a forward. With seven goals from 12 matches, striker Jeje Lalpekhlua is in the midst of his best Indian Super League season.
The 27-year-old Mizo sharp shooter, who always celebrates his goals with a sniper’s pose, has been a constant at Chennaiyin from the formation of the ISL and is eager to lift the trophy as the spearhead of his team’s attack. Another Indian who might be harbouring similar ambitions is Jeje’s captain in the national team, Sunil Chhetri. Riding on Chhetri’s eight goals, Bengaluru are on top of the table. The Nehru Stadium here will witness an explosive meeting between Jeje and Chhetri when the second-placed Chennaiyin host Bengaluru on Tuesday.
Jeje puts competition aside and looks at the positive side. “It is good for our football that Indian forwards are performing well. It is not only about Chhetri and me; there are so many young players who are doing well in the ISL. I hope to see a lot more youngsters graduate from the ISL to the national team. I hope Jerry, Anirudh Thapa and Germanpreet Singh become an integral part of the national side one day,” the striker said.
Before season four commenced Jeje had stressed that the current squad was Chennaiyin’s best in four seasons and he now reiterates that the team has moved on from the times of Brazilian Elano and Colombian Stiven Mendoza.
“The good thing about this squad is that it is not about one player. Everybody is important now. If somebody is injured we have another player to step into his shoes. It is one of the strong points about this team,” added Jeje.
The forward is not somebody who is known for his pace. How, then, does he find the back of the net with metronomic regularity? The amiable Mizo earns his bread and butter through his knack of being in the right place at the right time. “I know my qualities and I need to use them wisely. Being a striker I need to score goals, so during training I try to polish my finishing. Whenever a midfielder or winger passes the ball, I know where I should be. I think that’s the main reason I’m successful,” he added.
With Gregory choosing to play the 4-2-3-1 formation, Jeje shoulders immense responsibility as the sole striker but he says his team-mates help him cope with it. “Whenever our forward line doesn’t score goals, defenders like Inigo Calderon, Mailson Alves and Henreique Sereno have stepped up to the plate. So there is no pressure on me. I want to stress the point that this is our best squad we have had,” said Jeje.
Four years is a short time for a player to pledge his allegiance to a club but Jeje has made Chennai his second home. “We are a family here in Chennaiyin. We have the best owners in the league. Whenever I find time I go to a Mizo church here on Sunday and meet my friends. A lot of people from Mizoram are working and studying here,” said the striker who is a die-hard follower of Chelsea FC.