With Indian strikers in the I-League failing to hit the double digit mark for second consecutive season, Sunil Chhetri leapt to their defence and pointed that the clubs never really give them a fair chance to perform. Prayag United’s CK Vineeth is the top Indian goal scorer in the I-League this season with seven goals and mind you, he didn’t even start as a striker on most occasions.
Chhetri, who impressed during his short spell at Churchill Brothers and even scored the goal which won them the title, opined that the teams needs to give the local talent an opportunity to impress as much as their foreign strikers.
“The club wants a striker, one midfielder and one big defender and that’s the set norm when it comes to choosing the foreign players. It’s important for the clubs to understand that the Indian players can also give you results if given chances. If you see the way they treat a foreign striker and an Indian player, there is a difference. Not only in terms of money but just the way they behave,” he told Goal.
However it cannot be denied that the Indian strikers too haven’t taken their chances kindly and the national team has suffered from an overdependence on Chhetri – which was apparent in the Challenge Cup qualifiers.
“Where was Chhetri seven years back? At Bagan, I was fairly lucky as at 16-17 years, people don’t get so many chances. Till the time somebody cracks it, we will always say ‘There is no one’. You have got to give chances. Chhetri was nobody until some years back. People like Alwyn George and CK Vineeth are really good talents. Now they also have to be sensible. If they are seeing that a club already has three strikers. Let’s suppose a club has Odafa Okolie, Tolgay Ozbey and Sunil Chhetri. You have to be sensible and cannot just go there for the money. You have to make sure that you play,” he explained.
Chhetri stated that it is vital for a player to get as much game time as without it, the confidence goes missing. He cited his own example at Sporting Lisbon’s ‘B’ side where he would train throughout the week and wouldn’t get an opportunity to showcase his talent on the weekend.
“For the Pailan Arrows boys, it was a huge achievement for them to play the entire season. Look at Alwyn now and his confidence. It’s because he played every match. You take an Alwyn and make him sit on the bench for a year and he will be gone. I know what happens when I was at Sporting and not playing. It kills you. You take a Lionel Messi and make him sit on the bench for seven years. I bet if he will ever be the same player that he is now,” he mentioned.
“Playing makes you a better player. You can train as hard as possible but if you are not playing, you are not there. It’s important for the players also to choose the clubs very sensibly. There are more clubs and no scarcity. Everybody wants to play. When you are talking to the gaffers of your club, make sure they know why they want you. It’s not easy,” he further elaborated.
While the clubs won’t provide regular opportunities until the player impresses by scoring goals, a striker cannot make a mark unless he is backed by his coach. It’s a classic chicken and egg situation.
“When I started at Bagan, they had Sheikh Sanjib, George Ekeh, Amar Ganguly, Jose Barretto and Bhaichung Bhutia. I still got some 13 minutes every now and then. I kept working hard and you really have to be lucky sometimes. Also when you haven’t signed, choose your club properly. It’s very important. Once you score 10 or 11 goals, then you are already in the market. It’s difficult because even if you are a good talent, people won’t trust you until you start scoring. But to score you have got to play the match. There is no player who can score without playing,” he signed off.