Indian football superstar Sunil Chhetri feels the country has made progress in the past 10 years but still remains far behind other Asian powers in fields such as grassroot development and talent scouting.
Chhetri said the country still needs to do a lot of work to narrow the gap with the Asian powers and reach the top 10 in the continent.
“Not only the grassroot but also the overall development of Indian football has been good. The hard part is reaching the top 10 in Asia is still far. No matter how fast we improve, the improvement seems small as compared to other Asian powers. Where we want to reach is still far but we are heading in the right direction,” the Indian football team captain told PTI.
“We are not good enough in identifying talent, infrastructure, making sure that young players get nourished food etc. We are not there yet. We are far better than we were in the last 10 years but the road is still very far. it is not the time of congratulating ourselves and being satisfied. We have to keep working hard,” he added.
Asked about talent, he said, “It is better now but it is not great. Identification of talent is the first criteria of scouting and you have to identify talent at the right time.”
“When a kid is 11 and when he is 14, there is a hell lot of a difference. Catching him when he is at 11 and putting him in a programme is going to be different from when he is 14. That is where we lacked. We have 1.3 billion people and it is impossible we dont have talent. We have to improve as a country (in this aspect).”
Youth development is headed in the right direction, he said, and to support his point, Chhetri gave the example of youngsters like Indian U-17 World Cup team captain Amarjit Singh and Narinder Gahlot breaking into the senior national team.
“Young players like Amarjit Singh and Narendra Gahlot coming in the senior team, this gives us hope. It is not everyday that two young kids from U-17 break into the senior team. It is a promising thing and I just think things like these should happen for Indian football to progress further,” said Chhetri who recently visited the Hindustan Zinc-run Zinc Football Academy in Udaipur.
Still going strong at 34, Chhetri said he would like to be remembered as a footballer who gave his best for the country.
“(Would want to be remembered as) Somebody who tried his best. I have a life which is so blessed and I have achieved much more than what I have dreamt of. When I have achieved this much, my moral responsibility is to do my best,” said Chhetri who has played 111 matches for India and scored 71 goals.
“When I go to the pitch, eat, sleep and think, I stay positive to give my best. That is the least I can do. I have to honest to my sport and give my best. So, whenever I am done, in 6 years, eight years or 10 years down the line whenever, I hope I am remembered by people as somebody who gave his best.”
Chhetri said he is liking the playing style of new head coach Igor Stimach, a member of the 1998 World Cup third-place finishing Croatian side.
“It is a different style of play and you have seen in the last tournament (Intercontinental Cup). The way we build up is different, he wants to build up from behind with lots of passes. I like this kind of game because my club plays like this and the Spanish players play like this,” said the striker who is currently the second highest goal scorer among active players behind only to Cristiano Ronaldo.
“His (Stimach’s) philosophy and what he wants is quite clear. He is knowledgeable and the boys love him and we all have to rally behind him. Sahal, Udanta and Anirudh are flourishing under him.”
Talking about the Intercontinental Cup where India lost two and drawn one match, he said, “We did not do well because a lot of players were injured and also we are doing a lot of things.”
Chhetri described India’s group in the upcoming 2022 World Cup qualifiers as “interesting” and said the team will have to give its best.
“It is an interesting group, I am looking forward to it. I just hope we get some training matches before the tournament starts. We are getting two tough matches first, Oman at home and Qatar away. All the boys will have to come injury free and we will give a good fight.”