The Indian national team captain also sheds light on PIOs.
Despite enjoying a professional career spanning two decades in Indian football, Indian national team captain Sunil Chhetri is still going strong at the age of 38. The Bengaluru FC star has no desire to hang up his boots in the future and is set to enjoy another stellar campaign at club and national level.
After making his debut in 2002, Chhetri has seen many ups and downs in Indian football. He has achieved all that in the country and has had first-hand experience of the transformation that has taken place over a period of two decades.
What needs to happen for Indian football to grow in stature?
In an interview with sportsman, the Bengaluru FC captain spoke about how he has perceived the transition over the past twenty years. He said: “There has been a marked change in the club football we see in India now. Mention must be made here of the Indian Super League, which played a crucial role in developing the culture of club football in India.
“But we cannot be complacent at this stage because we have a long way to go before we achieve the level we want. We need to improve in all situations. ISL as well as I-League should have at least 20 teams. We have enough talent and our country’s population is large enough to have many clubs playing in the top leagues.
“For a pan-India movement we have to bring relatively small places (in terms of football activity) into the mainstream. States like Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andaman, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat and Delhi should also play a more active role. If an ISL or I-League club starts from every state, the sport will grow,” he added.
Which clubs run their youth development programs?
When it comes to youth development, SUNI Chhetri has dropped the name of two specific academies that are guided by their academy structure and activities. He said: “Clubs are starting to do that but need to be more serious about what is required. Reliance Foundation and Bengaluru FC’s center in Bellary to name a few. I am taking these two names because I know them and have seen them perform. Likewise, if all clubs started doing this, the results would be great.
“It will be good not only for the country but also for the clubs. It makes sense when players like Parag (Sreevas), Leon (Augustin), or Roshan (Singh) come from the academy and become club players. The first advantage is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on players, and the second is that you get loyalty that cannot be bought.
“Having come from the academy, Roshan has a different loyalty when playing for Bengaluru FC. It’s like Manchester United’s ‘The Class of ’92’ or Xavi (Hernandez), Andres Iniesta, (Lionel) Messi, (Sergio) Busquets Bach (of the La Masia academy). These are the big benefits of having an academy and I hope ISL and I-League clubs work towards realizing them. “If they don’t, I’m sure they will soon because that’s a big part of getting home-grown talent,” the forward also claimed.
Sunil Chhetri gives his opinion on the PIO’s involvement with the Indian team
Sunil Chhetri has also given his personal opinion on the PIOS (Players of Indian Origin) rules that require them to give up their passports and take Indian citizenship to play for the country. He gave his view on this debate: “To this question, I have always given the same answer: it is a quick fix, nothing more. If the national coach is aware of specific players who can make it directly to the starting XI, that’s fine.
“We are 1.4 billion people and we need to work hard to ensure we have enough home-grown talent. My point is simple, that is, if the coach knows which players to get from abroad, great. If those guys can come in and improve our level of performance immediately, that’s good. I say this because I know the whole world is doing it.
“There are two or three Brazilians in the UAE national team. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s reality. If you want to do something impressive in the AFC Asian Cup, you can do it as a quick fix. That’s my view, there are people above me who have to make decisions. But in the long run, we need to ensure that we are a self-sufficient country and can draw on our resources.
Can we see Indian footballers playing in foreign leagues?
Sunil Chhetri seems to be open to the possibility of introducing PIOs in the Indian team, but only if they can significantly improve the Blue Tigers in key matches. The Indian captain asked for patience to discuss the possibility of seeing Indian players playing in foreign leagues as well and whether it could raise the standard of the national team.
The 38-year-old said: “It’s definitely going to happen. But this is not going to happen in the top European clubs because our standards are not good enough to play at the top level of the European leagues at the moment. But it will happen eventually. When a child goes out of the country, he or she will gather a lot of information by playing in different levels of the league.
“For people like me, having Baichung (Bhootia), Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu) and Sandesh (Jhingan) playing abroad has definitely made us better players. The number of players going abroad will increase, but that alone will not improve our game. Overall, everything needs to improve in Indian football. The good thing is that the focus is on the Indian football team, which means we will have to work hard. We, as in the federation, the government, the corporates who help us, the fans, the players and also the media,” he said.