BEING NOMINATED THREE TIMES for the prestigious Arjuna Award and ending up not winning it each time caused Jeje Lakpekhlua to even consider retiring from international football at one point.
The 29 year old forward, who has played 56 matches for the national team and scored 23 goals, has been nominated in 2017, 2019 and 2020 but each time the award went to somebody else.
A source close to the player told TFG,
"Jeje doesn't play for individual awards. But when you are nominated three times and rejected each time, it becomes an embarrassment... he was thinking about retiring from international football. He has pushed himself so hard playing for the national team, played under injury and delivered stand-out performance. But despite all of that he was treated that way."
After Jeje expressed his frustration to his friends and colleagues in Mizoram football, the state association wrote a letter to Kiren Rijiju, the sports minister, seeking clarification on the process of how the award winners are selected. The letter says,
"We would be very much obliged if you can further provide us the detailed criteria for the Arjuna Award recipients.
Jeje Lalpekhlua has been named among the nominees for the Arjuna Award by the All India Football Federation on three separate occasions in the past.
In 2017, he, along with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Bembem Devi were nominated and the award went to Indian women great Bembem Devi.
In 2019 he was nominated along with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu again, in which the albeit commendable but lesser capped Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was given the award.
In 2020, Jeje was again nominated along with Sandesh Jhingan and Bala Devi, and as was the case in the previous year he was again overlooked for the lesser capped Sandhesh Jinghan.
While the MFA acknowledges and applauds the Indian footballer awardees; it insists upon the disclosure of the detailed criteria for the Arjuna Award, as well as the explanation to the question 'Why has Jeje Lalpekhlua been been overlooked after three separate nominations?'"
The letter goes on to list the multiple achievements Jeje has earned in his club career as well as for the national team, including a list of the individual awards he has won.
The official process of the Arjuna Award selection at present is that the national sports body (AIFF in the case of Indian football) sends two or three names to the central sports ministry, who take the call on who the award should go to. No official communication is issued to explain the basis of that final decision, and there is no specific criteria for this process.
At present, Jeje Lalpekhlua is in Goa ahead of the upcoming Indian Super League 2020-21 season. He has recently parted ways with Chennaiyin FC, after being forced out of action throughout the 2019-20 season due to an injury. Multiple clubs are trying to sign him with East Bengal being considered the frontrunners at the moment.