Indian talisman Sunil Chhetri says he hopes to continue playing and scoring goals for the country in the “near future”, his battle-hardened body getting a booster dose in the form of the 77th international strike which Attracted him to the level of King Pele.
Chhetri, 37, equaled the great Pele when his 83rd-minute strike helped India beat Nepal 1-0 and save his team from elimination at the SAFF Championships in Maldives on Sunday.
Even as his team goes through long lean periods, Chhetri’s goal scoring skills are as good as ever, which is a testament to his consistency and dedication.
“I am constantly asked about my consistency, and I wish I had an answer. But the truth is that there is no blueprint. It’s more about wanting to move forward and give my best every single day, which thankfully, I never fell short,” Chhetri told PTI after his latest strike.
Through his illustrious journey, the deadly hunter from Delhi has played alongside former stars like Bhaichung Bhutia and Renedy Singh in the national team as well as well-known international players in the ISL and I-League.
“I have been very fortunate to have played with some great footballers who didn’t get enough credit. I have learned something from every coach I have played for. It is a coming together of many things – big and small – and I hope to keep doing it in the near future,” he said.
Despite the occasional chatter about his age and longevity, the Indian captain wants to keep playing in the top-flight and has not given any thought to his future.
“It may sound like a lie, but I have never thought about my future as a footballer. Like I said, the one thing I probably do best is to wake up and train and play. I look forward to it, thoroughly enjoy it and never want to stop doing it.
“My future plans with football are really what my next training session will look like. I’m lucky to have a support system all around me that makes sure I don’t have to think or worry about anything that Football is not. It becomes even easier to love what I do.”
Playing in his 123rd match for India, Chhetri scored a late goal on Sunday to equalize himself with the Brazilian great (77 goals in 92 matches).
He is now joint third in the list of active footballers behind Cristiano Ronaldo (112) and Lionel Messi (79) along with Ali Mabkhout (77) of the United Arab Emirates.
Despite his myriad achievements as a top-class striker at both the international and club levels, and his success with teams, Chhetri remains as hungry as ever.
“If a trophy is up for grabs, I want to win it, it is as simple as that. There aren’t too many athletes or teams that are satisfied with what they have in their trophy cabinets. I am no different.
“On a personal level, I am not a big fan of statistics, milestones and accolades. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for everything I have accomplished and achieved. But winning with your team – for the country and the club, that’s what it’s all about.”
Like other games, COVID-19 The pandemic has affected the plans of most football teams and the India and Bengaluru FC strikers are happy to play the game at the moment.
“Ever since international football resumed after the pandemic, we have been using every FIFA window. Unfortunately, I missed matches against Oman and UAE in March (after testing positive for COVID). Those are the matches that Indian football needs.
“At the same time, I understand that it is hard to get good games because of all the restrictions brought with the pandemic.”
There will be a lot of action in women’s football in India next year (the country is hosting the AFC Asian Cup and the FIFA U-17 World Cup), and Chhetri is happy that women are getting opportunities to showcase their potential in the sport. .
On the day Chhetri scored her 77th international goal, the Indian women’s team won the first of two friendly matches in Bahrain.
“I am also delighted that Indian women are traveling on an exposure tour to prepare for the upcoming AFC Women’s Asian Cup, and last night they beat Bahrain 5-0.
“Like I always say, if we are to improve and measure where we are, and how much more we need to do, we have to keep playing with better opponents.”