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Tap the right talent in the country and we’ll accept our current FIFA rankings, medals: Sunil Chhetri

Published Aug 23, 2015, 12:51 am IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 2:58 am IST
Indian football captain says nation will get much better players than Baichung Bhutia and himself

Mumbai: Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri, who was recently bought for a staggering price of Rs 1.2 Cr by the Ranbir Kapoor co-owned Mumbai City FC this season of the Indian Super League (ISL) did not think twice to lash out at critics who slammed the Indian football team’s performance of late and its reflection in the FIFA rankings (currently ranked 156).

“We have to bring about a sports culture and for that we have to be a sports country, which we are not. The most important thing in our country is sports. It does wonders,” said Chhetri, who is the top goal scorer for India with 50 goals.


The 31-year-old Indian star, who was at his humble best, here, during the PUMA launch of Mumbai City FC’s home kit for this season on Saturday was also in favour of India having one football league, as opposed to the current two (I-League and Indian Super League) for further development of the sport in India.


You haven’t featured in the inaugural season of ISL. Coming into the second season, being the poster boy of Indian football, is the pressure getting to you?

No actually, it’s been going on for the last so many years now. I have actually learnt to keep all these things away from my mind because it’s not going to help me in my game. When I lose a game, I’m brutally abused. When I’m told nice things, or when I’m said that I’m the highest paid footballer in ISL, all these things won’t help me in my game. It’s always flattering to hear accolades, worse to hear when you’re abused, I tend to sleep over it and forget about it. I know what I’m going to do in the next day’s training has got everything and whatever I’ve heard is not going to make much of a difference.


Do you think having two competitive football leagues (I-League, ISL) is a step ahead for Indian football?

It’s a very touchy issue. I would love to have one league. I don’t want to say ISL or I-League. I just hope all the big think-tanks (of I-League, ISL, AIFF) can sit together and talk it out and make a plan because I’m sure all of them want the development of Indian football. So if we can somehow, maybe merge and make a bigger better league, where there are more teams and we have one prime league (didn’t name it), we all want that. One league, longer period, if we can make it a pan India one where teams from Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman, maybe if you can have 18-20 teams from different parts of the country, where it goes on for 11 months like it does in all other big European nations — that is something that we all dream of. I don’t know how to go about it. It may take time.


Mumbai City FC co-owner Ranbir Kapoor along with player-cum-manager Nicolas Anelka and players Subrata Paul, Sunil Chhetri and Andre Moritz during the launch of the new kit for the team.

Nicolas Anelka (player-cum-manager of Mumbai City FC) and Sunil Chhetri are a hard team to break. Anelka is a striker and you also occupy the same positions, conflict of positions here?

When I went to Bengaluru FC, I played on the left wing. I never played on the left wing ever in my life till then, I’ve always played as a striker. There was a time when I was thinking, ‘As a striker I scored goals, why should I play in the left wing?’ But then I do realise that whatever the coach wants is what I want to do.


I’m going to give everything that I have, showcase my talent and whatever I can bring to the table, if Nicolas wants me to play in any place, I will do that. If it doesn’t work out then I might have a talk with him. Whatever he wants, I’ll do for the team.

Indian football is on a considerable rise with ISL, coach Stephen Constantine also mentioned that the nation lacks culture. How do you plan on imbibing this culture ahead?

So many ideas which I don’t want to share free (laughs). If you say we are 1.3 billion people and say we are 150 in the rankings, it’s sad. We don’t even tap 20 per cent of the country’s talent. The day when every kid, right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, North East, Gujarat, a kid who is good, a kid who wants to play, if they are given proper coaching/training, then we’ll put our hands up and say, yes we take the rankings. Until we achieve that we can’t.


How can we say 1.3 billion people play when we don’t tap talents? First tap them, for that we need to have a bigger pool of coaches, scouts have to trace them and coaching has to be of a proper level. I’m not even saying five star facilities, just normal good coaching and decent facilities. If every kid gets that, who is good and if he/she wants to play, then we are in the right path.

How do you plan on going about this at an individual level?

Wherever I go, whomever I meet, all the influential people, I give this idea. I bring a lot of people to the table and make them understand how it’s going to be viable because a lot of people want something back also. But I’m handicapped because my 11 or 12 months go into playing football, I love what I’m doing now. So my meeting them or me being heard is a little less now but in due course whenever I can speak, whenever I have more time, I’ll definitely do this.


We have to bring about a sports culture for which we have to be a sports country. We are not. The most important thing in our country is sports. It does wonders, it teaches a kid to be a proper kid. No education can teach you better than what sports teaches you – to be a proper human being. Need to bring a proper sports culture into our country where we can provide them with decent facilities. If we achieve that then whatever, Olympics, 10 gold medals, we’ll take it but right now we’re sulking, when the fact is that we’re not even tapping the right talent or nourishing them. If we do nourish everyone properly then we’ll take it.


Coming to ISL, any close friend of yours who’ll be your opponent? You definitely must be knowing his ins and outs?

I’ll get in trouble if I take names, but one of the closest guys I know now is Eugeneson Lyngdoh (Pune City FC). I was hoping that we could end up in the same team but with our price tags it wasn’t possible. I’m really happy for him. When it comes to the game, I’m not going to leave any stone unturned to defeat him and I’m sure he’s going to do the same.

Apart from Gurpreet Singh, Romeo Fernandes, Sunil Chhetri and now Aditi Chauhan, no Indian has featured in international leagues.


The more easier route is to go to Asia. But in Asia there are only three to four foreigners allowed and they choose Brazilians and Argentines. It’s going to be difficult, it’s not easy going to a European country and make it count. When I went to Kansas City Wizards or Sporting Lisbon, I got 20 minutes or 30. Romeo played one game, so I understand what Romeo went through. I literally had to work very hard, I was 27 when I went to Sporting, and it wasn’t enough for me. I sulk when I don’t play. So I had to make a choice and come back. I know how difficult it is.


(Photos: PTI)

After Baichung Bhutia it was Sunil Chhetri, what happens after Sunil Chhetri

(Laughs). There is so much talent in our country, so many better players than me. If 10 years ago, somebody had asked Baichung, ‘Do you think any guy would break your record?’ Nobody would have believed that, it happens, you just got to give it some time. There are so many young talents. Because I’m in Bengaluru FC players such as Udanta Singh, Alwyn Geroge are superb talents, they just have to take it further, be calm and composed.

We will get much better players than Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri. Indian football is going through a transition period, so people are getting jittery and saying, ‘Who next, who next?’ I wasn’t made in one day, Baichung wasn’t made in one day, Subrata Pal wasn’t made in one day. Be patient, it’ll take time if you’re working towards the right direction.


With the World Cup qualifiers ahead and the ISL, hectic schedule ahead?

It is, thank god I had this one month training with Bengaluru FC. I’m fitter now. If I would have come here (or in the National camp) without training there, it would have been difficult. I’m somebody who believes that you need to work really really hard.

Any Indian competitor?

None at all, they are all better than me, there’s no competitor. It’s football, we work in a team. I want 30 Udantas in one year, I want 40 Robins (Robin Singh) to come in one year. I just hope we produce more and more players. At the end of the day, it’s going to make the country better.


But yes, I don’t want to leave this, I love this and I enjoy the abuses, the encouragement, all’s good, the 90 minutes on the field, playing for your nation is unparallel again. I’m one of the privileged ones, I’m living a dream. I wouldn’t want it to stop!