Ahead of their final home game against Pune FC on Friday, Bengaluru FC’s Sunil Chhetri believes that his side aren’t thinking about the title race yet despite leading the standings with only four matches to go.
When asked on his thoughts on their chances to win the league this term and if they (Bengaluru) are disadvantaged playing most of their games away from home, Chhetri gave a simple yet practical response.
‘See, the way we’ve planned it out is, no one thinks about the title race. What happens is when we started no one thought we would be champions, even we did not think like that. After winning one game, all we did was focus on the next game. So like I said, nobody thinks or looks at the permutations and combinations of those seven points (difference between Pune FC and Bengaluru)," he told Goal.
He emphasized on the importance of the next tie against Pune FC and how his team approaches every game.
'Only think about Pune FC, win the game, take rest, relax, and then focus on the next game. Right now all we’re thinking about is the Pune FC game. The moment you start thinking about the permutations and combinations, it starts playing with your brain. We don’t want that.'
“It’s a big game at home against Pune, so all the boys have been told to relax and think about the next game. That’s what will help you and what eventually has to happen will happen. That’s the way it has been at our club right from the start,” said Chhetri who was in Mumbai at gaming zone 'SMAAASH' for a felicitation ceremony for 18 year old Henderson Dias who had scored six consecutive penalties past an electronic 'supersonic' keeper in the Goalie Guacamole Challenge and had won himself a brand new Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Salgaocar FC, Pune FC and East Bengal are the main contenders alongside Bengaluru for the league title and the 29-year old believes that it is difficult for the Kolkata outfit to win silverware as they have to win at least seven-to-eight matches.
“They are all are able clubs. They have been here for many years and are doing really well. Salgaocar had a dip in between but they’re doing really well now. They’ve won four of their last 5 games. East Bengal have got a lot of games to play and win. I think they have seven-to-eight games. Its little bit harder for them but like I said we’re top of the table now.
“We have a three point advantage. We have four games to go and have to look at ourselves but the next game is the most crucial one against a team (Pune FC) also eyeing the championship. It’s a six pointer and it’s massive.”
Chhetri is currently the top scorer in the I-League with 13 goals and is almost certain to break Bhaichung Bhutia's all time record of 14 before the campaign ends. When asked about his form currently, Chhetri chose to focus more on the fact that he's avoided injury.
“A lot of people have asked me, about this or that goal and I was thinking about it two days ago. I played 14 games for East Bengal and scored 9 goals; played 13 games for Dempo and scored 8 goals; 7 games for United SC and scored 7 goals. I played 14 games for Mohun Bagan and scored 8 goals when it was a bad season and that was when I got injured. I scored 4 goals in 8 matches for Churchill.'
“This is the first season I completing, touch wood. Four games are left and I haven’t had any injuries. Injuries slow you down. That’s why people must be thinking he’s (Chhetri) scoring so many goals! he exclaimed.'
He also spoke about Bengaluru as a tight unit and the influence of the coaching staff led by Ashley Westwood.
'I was actually doing quite well before getting injured. I say 13 matches, 9 goals, it’s pretty decent. This is the first I-league that I'm completing fully. This is what made me very happy, that there are no injuries. It also makes you a better player, score better goals, and win tournaments. That’s why I want to credit to our coaching staff led by Ashley Westwood.”
He said injuries would affect them more as they have a smaller squad, but thankfully they haven't had too many.
'We’ve hardly had any injuries which is a great thing for our team. We’re not a big bunch of players. We only have 23 players, not 43 like other teams. The training becomes more intense, you don’t have a player sitting on the side smoking a cigar. This is a team where anyone gets to play in the first 11. We work hard our fitness and recovery level.”
Chhetri went on to say that he's never worked harder for the team in his life.
'Even though I’m not playing as a striker, I’m playing a role where you have to work your a** off to come back and defend because that’s why Ashley wants. When I come back and see my stats I realize that I’ve never done this in my life. First time I’m doing all this. This is my fittest period. I got 4 yellow cards, first time in my life! It made me miss a game. But we have to push on.”
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