New Delhi: For a country obsessed with cricket, it isn’t easy being a household name if you play another sport. But Sunil Chhetri is a different breed altogether. The captain of the Indian football team, Chhetri is now the face of the game in the country.
Yes, his face may not be as recognisable as that of Virat Kohli, but then Chhetri also has a huge fan following. From a young striker who played second fiddle to the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia to taking on the leader’s mantle with elan, Chhetri had done it all.
With 67 goals in his kitty, Chhetri is the second highest international goal-scorer among active players ahead of even Lionel Messi. But what sets the skipper apart from all, is his humility and desire to keep going for the country.
Chhetri wants to serve the country as long as his body permits him to do so. To him donning the Indian jersey is a great honour and nothing can replace that ‘great’ feeling.
“I’m happy to do it for as long as my body allows me to. It has been the biggest honour of my life and career to play for the country and I will keep at it as long as I am capable of doing it,” Chhetri asserted.
While Chhetri isn’t getting any younger, one area of concern is the lack of strikers who can match his class. The Indian forward said that clubs in the country need to take notice of this deficiency and work towards improving the situation.
“We, as a country, haven’t been able to produce the number of strikers we should have over the last five to seven years and there are multiple reasons for this,” Chhetri stated. “The over-reliance of clubs on foreign strikers was a trend that seeped some years ago and that has stayed. That said, Indian players playing in the position need to show more hunger and desire to reach the potential they are capable of. Only then will coaches provide them a chance,” asserted Chhetri.
Chhetri also harped on the importance of basics. “Also, a lot of emphasis should be given to finishing skills from a young age. It isn’t an easy skill to acquire and is probably the most important one in a game. The small details need to be drilled in early,” pointed out Chhetri.
Chhetri also said that his journey with Bengaluru FC has also been one to treasure as a player. In fact, he says that it has been one of the best rides to play for Bengaluru FC.
“There is no one reason that’s responsible for the success the club and I have both enjoyed over the last six seasons. There were systems set on and off the pitch at the onset and these systems were followed religiously,” Chhetri stated.
“Everyone at the club — from the ball boy to the owners – have pushed and pulled in the same direction and our success is a result of that. Personally, I haven’t been happier and I’m blessed to have played under three fantastic coaches at BFC, all of whom have brought out the best in me,” Chhetri stated.
Emphasising on Bhutia’s influence in his career, Chhetri said: “Bhaichung bhai had a big influence on me and I was fortunate enough to spend a considerable amount of time with him while I had just begun my career as a professional footballer. His work ethic and desire were second to none and he always looked out for me.”