Learnt professionalism from Sunil Chhetri: Jeje Lalpekhlua

In this interview, Chennaiyin FC striker Jeje Lalpekhlua said he hopes to end his longest dry spell of six games by scoring against FC Goa on Tuesday and qualifying for the Indian Super League final

football Updated: Mar 12, 2018 23:47 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Indian Super League,Jeje Lalpekhlua,Sunil Chhetri
Jeje Lalpekhlua of Chennaiyin FC will be hoping to lead his side past FC Goa in the semi-finals of the Indian Super League.(ISL)

Perhaps the best example of the understanding Jeje Lalpekhlua and Sunil Chhetri have while playing for India is the goal against Kyrgyz Republic last June. The way Lalpekhlua times his chip to find Chhetri who follows up with a first-time volley shows how well they hunt as a pair.

“We know each other so well, having played together for long (since 2011). I know where the ball will be when he has it. But he is a different class. On and off the field. The one thing I have learnt from him is professionalism. The kids in the India team have a lot to learn from him. He is 33 but has just scored a hattrick and taken his team to the final. I hope he has a good Asian Cup,” said Lalpekhlua, during an interview here on Monday.

For Lalpekhlua, the 2019 Asian Cup finals, in the UAE from January 5 to February 1, is a “dream, I simply don’t want to let go...The most important thing in my football career.”

“We have less than one year to get ready. For me that now means, not relaxing during the off-season but working in the gym,” said the Chennaiyin FC striker, on a new three-season deal from 2017-18.

But that is for later. There is the more immediate task of helping Chennaiyin FC to Saturday’s final of ISL4. Going into Tuesday’s game, Lalpekhlua couldn’t remember if he ever had a dry run of six games.

“I want to score tomorrow and take Chennaiyin to the final. Last year, I had four games without a goal for India. It has been difficult, this spell but I am trying to keep working as hard as I always have and forget the past. Our coach (John Gregory) believes in me and I want to repay his faith,” he said.

Used as a single striker in Gregory’s 4-2-3-1 formation as opposed to previous coach Marco Materazzi who usually played 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond, Lalpekhlua has got seven goals --- his highest in four ISL editions --- but they have come in a run of nine mid-season games.

“Playing a single striker means I have fewer opportunities so I hope this will also help me get sharper in the long run. But these seven goals will mean nothing if we don’t win the trophy.”

What has changed for Chennaiyin FC, who were seventh last term, is that from having good individuals such as Elano and Stiven Mendoza who would win games, they now win through collective effort, said Lalpekhlua, who has played for them since 2014.

Till last season, he also played for Mohun Bagan. “I miss playing the I-League. But it was difficult to play for two clubs in one season so, personally, what has happened is good. Also, two leagues have given so many new players an opportunity and that is good for football in India,” he said.

First Published: Mar 12, 2018 23:39 IST