Jeje Lalpekhlua began the year by helping India regain the SAFF Championship title with a goal in the final -- his third of the competition -- and ended it being adjudged the 2016 Player of the Year by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Wednesday. The India, Mohun Bagan and Chennaiyin FC striker will get R 2.5 lakh and a trophy, according to a media release by the AIFF.
Odisha’s Sasmita Malik was chosen woman footballer of the year. She will get R 2 lakh and a trophy. Malik, 27, is a midfielder who won the national championship with Railways and was part of the national team that won gold in the South Asian championships beating Nepal 4-0.
Special awards, worth R 1 lakh and a trophy, will go to India and Stabaek FC goalie Gurpreet Singh, who played in a Europa League qualifier, and to Uvena Fernandes who was an assistant-referee in the women’s under-17 World Cup final between Japan and North Korea in Jordan, a first for India.
Lalpekhlua, who will turn 26 next month, won the 2014-15 I-League with Mohun Bagan, the ISL that season with Chennaiyin FC and days later, helped India win the SAFF Championship. This season, Lalpekhlua scored five goals in 13 games for Mohun Bagan in the I-League where they finished second. He was also the highest scorer with eight goals in five matches, including a brace in the final, of the Federation Cup which Mohun Bagan won, beating Aizawl FC 5-0. Lalpekhlua got six goals in seven AFC Cup games where Mohun Bagan lost in the pre-quarter finals. He is set to stay with Mohun Bagan this season.
- Men’s Player of the Year: Jeje Lalpekhlua
- Woman Footballer of the Year: Sasmita Malik
- Emerging Player of the Year: Rowllin Borges
- Emerging Woman Footballer of the Year: Sanju
- Award for Best Grassroots Development Programme: Punjab Football Association
- Award for Best Referee: Pranjal Banerjee
- Award for Best Assistant Referee: Joseph Tony
Soon after, there was a brace in the 6-1 rout of Laos which sealed a second round berth in the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers. Lalpekhlua also got a goal in India’s 4-1 win against Puerto Rico in an international friendly, a result that took them to 137 in the Fifa rankings, their highest since 2009.
Having started with Pune FC as a 16-year-old, Lalpekhlua debuted for India in 2011 and was loaned to Pailan Arrows, both of which have since wound up first teams. He was the AIFF’s Emerging Player of the Year in 2013.
“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,” Lalpekhlua told www.the-aiff.com.
“Jeje is someone who should be playing outside India. He has shown amazing consistency for clubs and country,” said India coach Stephen Constantine.
Lalpekhlua continues the worldwide trend of attacking players bagging most awards. Since it was instituted by AIFF in 1992, strikers or attacking midfielders have won it 16 times.