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Jeje Lalpekhlua’s Cautionary Tale: ‘Never Take Any Injury Lightly’

Jeje Lalpekhlua, once hailed as the “next Sunil Chhetri,” has delivered a heartfelt message to aspiring footballers: never take any injury lightly. The former Indian forward, whose promising career was severely affected by persistent knee injuries, underscored the importance of proper injury management for young athletes looking to have long-term success.

In the world of Indian football, the mentor-mentee relationship between Jeje and Sunil Chhetri has been well-documented. Chhetri, a stalwart in Indian football, often guided his younger teammate, aiding in his development and growth. The dynamic duo joined forces in 2011, and Jeje quickly rose in prominence, complementing Chhetri’s exemplary skills to spearhead the Indian attack. Together, they clinched the SAFF Championship twice, in 2011 and 2015.

Despite his burgeoning career, Jeje found himself repeatedly sidelined due to knee injuries, a factor that curtailed his potential and left Indian football fans yearning for more. Speaking to PTI from Aizawl, Jeje said, “I had tried my best when I was young. I worked extremely hard to emulate his (Chhetri’s) game, but injuries held me back, disappointing Indian football fans who had high expectations from me. I hope the future brings young players who can fill in his boots.”

Jeje emphasized the critical nature of injury management, reflecting on his own experiences. “In 2011, when I first played, the coach liked me, there were some minor injuries but I would never take them seriously,” shared the 33-year-old. “But if you want to play for a longer period, you need to be careful and never take risks. Look at Sunil. To play long-term, you can’t take unnecessary risks. Once something serious happens, it becomes very difficult,” he advised aspiring footballers.

With India set to face Kuwait in an upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifier, Jeje’s reflections come at a pivotal time. The footballer-turned-MLA, who now runs the “Jeje 12” football academy in Aizawl, continues to influence the sport from a different arena. He spoke highly of Edmund Lalrindika (Inter Kashi), David Lalhlansanga (Mohammedan Sporting), and Lalrinzuala Lalbiaknia (Aizawl FC) – the rising stars who have impressed him and caught the eye of national head coach Igor Stimac. “The game is vast, and young players like Rahim, Manvir, and David will have to work extremely hard.

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. Especially last season, we had Edmund, David, and Lalrinzuala who have impressed me the most,” he remarked.

Also read: Fare thee well, Sunil Chhetri

Chhetri’s influence on and off the field has been monumental. His agility, leadership, and finishing prowess have provided a blueprint for many, including Jeje. Together, their partnership fortified India’s attack in several international tournaments – the AFC Asian Cup, SAFF Championship, and various FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Jeje reminisced about their shared journey, acknowledging how crucial Chhetri’s leadership has been.

“Thinking about Indian football without Sunil Chhetri is almost impossible. He has done so much for the sport. To this day, I haven’t imagined our team without him,” Jeje expressed. The two-time ISL winner added, “But such is life, and I have immense respect for him. His leadership on and off the field has been exceptional. Sunil’s mindset was always about winning, whether it was football, carrom, chess, or table tennis.”

As Jeje passes the torch, his message is one of caution and resilience. Injuries, however minor they may seem, should never be disregarded. He hopes that the new generation of footballers will heed this advice, ensuring sustained and successful careers. His transition from player to mentor showcases his enduring commitment to Indian football, indicating that while his on-field presence may have waned, his influence and legacy continue to inspire.

In conclusion, Jeje Lalpekhlua’s advice to the next generation is rooted in personal experience and professional wisdom. He has seen both the zenith and nadir of a football career. His words are not just a reminder of the physical demands of the sport but a testament to the resilience required to sustain it. Future football stars would do well to respect their bodies, manage injuries with the utmost seriousness, and remain patient and persistent in their pursuit of excellence.

(With agency inputs)