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In an exclusive interview with Goal, the Indian captain talks about life at Bengaluru FC, the pressure of representing India and the expectations from the SAFF Championship..


GOALBY   SHIKHARR CHANDRA     Follow @ShikharrC on twitter


The last few months have been quite eventful for the Indian national football team captain Sunil Chhetri. After a succesful second half of the season with Churchill Brothers on loan, the former East Bengal striker decided not to continue with his parent club Sporting Lisbon 'B' and decided to settle for a new challenge with Bengaluru FC.

"I had a deal with Sporting Lisbon for two years but I just played six games [in the first term]. I took a change and came to Churchill, played 13 games there and when I was re-negotiating with Sporting Lisbon, I found that [the chances of] me playing over there would still be a problem. It is a great club, the training is top class, they nurture you as a player but training hard from Monday to Friday and not playing on Saturday regularly, was bothering me. I am not 19 anymore and I couldn't take that chance," Chhetri told Goal.

Speaking on what made him sign for Bengaluru FC, Chhetri commented, "It was a difficult decision for me to sign for JSW. I came from Churchill Brothers, a champion team and it's not everyday that you leave a champion team. I am very close with everyone at Churchill Brothers, but I have already become a champion there and I wanted a new challenge. The only difficult part I had about choosing the new club was the vision and JSW provided me that vision."

"We have a lot of new faces in the side. We are a young side and to be honest and we don't have any long term targets as of now. We are working hard in the pre-season. We are a new side so even we don't know what to expect from us this season," he continued.

The former Mohun Bagan player went on to praise the professionalism his new club has shown in a short span, to provide players with an optimum atmosphere to give their best.

"Bangalore is a lovely place. The weather is lovely there. We have a great club, the club chose the coach first and did all the homework for the dressing rooms, diet, physios, coaching staff and then they got the players in, which is one of the best things that happened. I am very happy with Bengaluru FC, we have a great coach in Ashley Westwood, a great coaching staff and a young side which will inly go on to improve."

"We have done seven days of pre season now and although it's not going to be easy in the I-League but we hope to do a good job," he mentioned.

The striker also cleared the controversy that was created in recent times about the club not serving its players proper dinner, with a tweet by the Indian captain being used as an evidence.

"It was misquoted. We have top class lunch and breakfast in the ground, the club also provides a cook, so lunch, breakfast, dinner are all taken care of," he added.

When asked about how much pressure there will be on him being the senior player in the new club and in the new enviroment, Chhetri was confident that he can settle quickly at Bengaluru FC and pointed out that the pressure of performing is everywhere.

"There is pressure everywhere you play. I try to keep myself away from pressure and at the end of the day I have to improve myself as a player and if I keep listening to people and keep hearing wrong and right things about myself, I might not be able to focus. I try to keep myself away from all this. Sometimes I do retaliate, I do react but I try to keep myself away from pressure."

The forward only had kind words for his new coach and is hoping he can improve under him. He said, "I think Ashley has great technical knowledge. The best part about him was that he was a player before, so he understands our mentality. He is friendly with everyone and has keen interest on everything. Apart from his technical knowledge which is vast, he is also a great motivator and a great disciplinarian. I think in Ashley we have a great leader."

A role model to many young footballers in India, Chhetri feels there is no added pressure and he enjoys every moment of his time with the national side. He revealed, "I don't feel there is any added pressure. I enjoy playing for India and it's a lot of fun. It was 2005 when I first joined the team and now it's 2013 but the pressure remains the same. You still give your best for the country, you get goosebumps when the national anthem is being played but yes I take care of my off-field duties more since I am one of the senior one."

Chhetri will lead Team India in the upcoming SAFF Championship starting in September, but before that the Blue Tigers will play Tajikistan in a warm up game on August 14.

"The team is holding a camp before the Tajikistan friendly. We are getting together in Delhi on the 8th of August and will travel to Tajikistan the next day and when we come back we will be going to Bangalore for the camp."

The national team captain was confident of India's chances in the SAFF Championship and stated that he focused more on his side's preparation rather than the other teams. He opined, "Our team should be good. I do not look at the other teams. Generally people have a lot of expectations from us and we have a lot of pressure when we enter this tournament. So at the end of the day, it is not important how strong the other side is, rather (it is important) how good you are."

"The first match of the tournament is very important. We are coming from an off season and the team lacks match practice. We are hoping the game against Tajikistan and the 20 days camp in Bangalore will be sufficient for us," he added.

The striker also did not feel that the team would be lacking any sort of confidence, after having failed to make it to the AFC Challenge Cup. He stated, "We are really optimistic about the SAFF Cup. The last tournament, the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers did not go so well for us. Even though we did well in the first two matches, the third match did not go so well and it was a big disappointment."

"We are all working hard in the pre-season, and we play our friendly against Tajikistan away from home so that will be tough. We have to work on our away form and then come back and play well in the SAFF Cup,"  he continued.

The Bengaluru FC forward was also surprised the way the new kit had been made, and was impressed with the designs that Nike had come up with.

"The most surprising part about the new jersey is that its streachable and its weight. We have got players like Robin Singh and Alwyn George and it will fit both of them the same way. I can breathe well and after 60 mins when you are sweating you won't have any problem since it feels like cotton. It feels very light and I hope it helps us with our performances," he concluded.

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