Sunil Chhetri is there in the team, right? This question has been asked innumerable times by Indian football fans over the last ten years. An affirmation has eased the pressure, calmed the nerves of many, both within and outside the Indian team. Team India might be going through a transition phase but the presence of one man remains constant. Sunil Chhetri, ‘ the talisman of the Indian team , as termed by national coach Stephen Constantine, is that constant figure of calm.
I just try to do the right things. When I was young, I learnt a lot from my seniors by looking at their game, their conduct. That’s the right way. If I keep lecturing the players, a time will come when nobody would want to listen to me. The easier way is to be a good professional. Be punctual, eat the right stuff, be a good example on the pitch and hope the younger ones are going to follow. That’s how I learnt and that’s the way I want to conduct myself,” Chhetri told TOI on Sunday.It was his calm that rubbed off on his colleagues on Saturday night against Puerto Rico and gave Team India and its fans much to celebrate .
The younger ones were more cheerful, which is understandable. We were really happy. It was a great win. It’s not every day that we play a much higher-ranked team. It was a handsome win. We conceded a penalty early on but we came strongly back in the game. It was good to have four different scorers. A couple of debutants were also there. There were a lot of positives from the Puerto Rico friendly. In the last 8-9 games, we have done really well as a team. We need to stay grounded. We are not the best team in the world. We are just improving and we need to make sure that we keep improving.
And Chhetri realises that the only way to improve is by playing more international games.
I was never a big fan of FIFA rankings. For me, we just beat a CONCACAF team and have done well in the last couple of months. We were playing after a very long time in Mumbai. We were not sure when we were going to play the next international friendly. I am not trying to blame anyone, but we don’t play enough friendlies. So whenever we get a chance, we have to make the most of it. Overall, the result was very satisfying. I hope we sneak in one more international this year. FIFA rankings are very important for us. Whenever a draw is made, ranking comes in handy. If we do not play enough games, we won’t have a chance to improve our ranking.
In the last 18 months, altogether 30 players have made their international debuts under national coach Stephen Constantine and according to Chhetri this is a trend that people need to get used to. “Stephen is not on a mission to hand a debut to everyone. It’s the given scenario. When he came, a lot of senior players were on the verge of leaving. It was a transition period. It’s not that he enjoys bringing in fresh recruits. It’s just the way things are right now. This way, the pool gets bigger. It’s good but we are in a transition period and this is going to happen.I hope the squad of 15 gives enough reason for the coach to play the same team. Although I am a fan of bringing in new players, but once we have those 15 players, they need to work really hard to stay in the team and stabilise the first XI. That’s how successful teams are made,” he added.