Mumbai: Sunil Chhetri, on the eve of his 100th game for the Indian national team, wanted more children to take up the sport in the country and the ones with better potential to be scouted and tapped up.
“We need more better players than Chhetris instead of just Chhetri, because Chhetri has reached only 100. All the kids, who are good and want to play need to get better facilities, diet, coaching facilities and places to play. Are we tapping all the potential right now? No. The day we do that, then we can say that the best are out there. At the moment, we are not doing that.”
Chhetri made his debut against Pakistan and spoke about getting a goal. “I still remember my first match for India. We were in Pakistan and Nabi-da (Syed Rahim Nabi) and I were the rookies. We were kind of chilling knowing that we may not be fielded. But Sukhi-sir (Sukhwinder Singh) made both of us to start the game. I scored a goal and all in euphoria I ran to the Pakistani fans and started to celebrate,” he laughed.
The Indian skipper spoke about the video that he had made and spoke about the importance of matches being held on the weekend. Chhetri spoke about the efforts that Bengaluru FC had put into increasing the influx of fans into the Kanteerava. Getting a crowd of 8-10,000 on a weekday for an AFC Cup match was great, he said.
A failed move to Queens Park Rangers saw parallels being drawn between Chhetri and Dheeraj Singh’s failed move to Motherwell, “I feel sad for Dheeraj, because I know what you go through. I’ve seen him and he’s good. Gurpreet thinks the same too. I hope Dheeraj keeps working hard. I hope this doesn’t make him too sad. He’s someone who has a great future.”
Chhetri’s is the second Indian after his ‘mentor’ Bhaichung Bhutia to achieve the feat. Referring to his ‘mentor’ Bhutia’s accolades for Chhetri evolving as a player, the ‘disciple’ said that “as players grow older they start filtering stuff.”
“Once you grow older and you play more, you understand what’s not good for you rather than what works for u. As you grow older you tend to start filtering stuff which is not needed and which is not important for you. That’s what is learnt. So I do the things which work for me. It’s monotonous but I hope it continues,” he informed.
The Bengaluru forward also spoke about his desire of playing better teams. “When we played South Korea, Australia and Bahrain at the Asian Cup, we stared with our mouths agape. These friendlies against Australia and Japan should be normal. We should be rubbing shoulders with the best of Asia.”
Chhetri also said that it was difficult to expect teams like Japan or Thailand to come play in India. He remembered playing Thailand in 2009 and drawing 2-2 with their 2019 Asian Cup group stage opponents. Chhetri then said Thailand had improved immeasurably since then and asked everyone gathered at the interaction if the levels of the team were still the same.
Dubbed as the “true leader” of the team, Chhetri said he enjoys the competition against the youngsters in his quest to get fitter and better. “I feel good when I speak with Udanta (Singh) and sprint with him; I feel good when I try to get past Sandesh (Jhingan); I feel good when I try to score against the big wall (Gurpreet Singh Sandhu). All of them are true professionals,” he declared.
Chhetri spoke about playing alongside young players and how footballers like Jeje had come through the ranks. “It gives me immense joy that Jeje (Lalpekhlua) who started in front of my eyes just the other day is now two short of 50 International matches. The effort to improve yourself is the hallmark of the squad,” he certified.
There have been a few tough games in his career, the captain stated. South Korea at 2011 Asian Games, Japan in Bengaluru and some others were all tough games. He also mentioned that the Asian Cup couldn’t be easy.
Goalscoring lists don’t interest Chhetri, he stated. “I don’t take that stat seriously. (You must) just feel happy for sometime but forget it. I see several photos and memes about it, I feel happy for few seconds but that’s about it.
I have become calmer. Once you grow older and play more, you tend to start filtering stuff which isn’t needed for you. My thought process is very specific but that has made me wiser and calmer.”