All India Football Federation (AIFF) has recommended the names of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Jeje Lalpekhlua for the prestigious Arjuna award this year. It was confirmed by AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das on Saturday. Despite the parent body’s recommendations, the question, however, remains whether the star goalkeeper and the striker would be third time lucky? The federation had been pushing the cases of the two footballers since 2017 but the Arjuna award committee continued to ignore their claims.
In 2017, the AIFF recommended the two footballers along with the Indian women’s team captain Bembem Devi but only the last named was conferred with the award. Sandhu and Jeje’s names were sent again last year but they did not receive the approval. Both Sandhu and Jeje are the national team’s longest-serving footballers after Sunil Chhetri, who have received both Arjuna and Padma Shri. Sandhu is the only second footballer (the other being Sunil Chhetri) in India to play the Asian Cup final rounds twice in 2011 and 2019.
Currently, with Bengaluru FC, Sandhu had previously played for Norwegian side Stabaek. He holds the unique record of becoming the first Indian footballer to play a competitive match in a European top division league when he was fielded by his club in the away encounter against IK Start in 2016. Jeje, on the other hand, is an exceptionally talented striker, whose performance has often been overshadowed because of Chhetri’s presence as his co-forward. Inducted in the national team by then-coach Bob Houghton in 2011, the 28-year-old from Mizoram has 23 international goals to his credit. He currently plays for Chennaiyin FC in the ISL.