It’s been years since Sunil Chhetri made his debut and looked up to the likes of I.M.Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia and Renedy Singh as seniors who would guide him along. Now it’s Chhetri’s turn to be the senior pro to several youngsters named in the AFC Challenge Cup 2012 squad.
Would this increase the pressure on him given that he will now be looked upon as a role model not just on the field but even off it?
“It doesn’t sound good to be categorized a senior but I believe it’s a transition period. When we came in, it was I.M.Vijayan and Jo Paul Ancheri retiring. Now the onus is on players like Anwar, Syed Nabi, Gouramangi, Subrata Paul, Steven Dias and me to help the young boys acclimatize to the environment.
“And that’s all the whole process will be in the coming years as this set of boys will have to play that role later in their careers.
“What’s important is that we need to combine well with each other. I’m glad that when I came into the national team, my seniors helped me ease into the team and I hope we can give the same to our juniors,” said Chhetri.
The AFC Challenge Cup 2012 Qualifiers will also see Chhetri partner a new striker upfront as Sushil Singh will remain suspended for two of the three matches.
“With so many young players in the squad, it gives them an opportunity to prove themselves and not every day you get chances of this sort. Atleast eleven to twelve of our senior players aren’t there. There is no doubt about the talent we have.
“Jeje has been in good scoring form as he scored four against Air India while Sabeeth scored a crucial goal against Myanmar. I’m looking forward to working with them,” said the former Sporting Kansas player.
The AFC Challenge Cup 2008 was one of the career defining moments for Chhetri where he scored the hat-trick in the finals against Tajikistan and helped India book a berth in the 2011 Asian Cup. Finishing amongst the top two in the qualifiers where Chinese Taipei, Turkmenistan and Pakistan await India, would guarantee a spot in next year’s AFC Challenge Cup.
“We won’t leave any stone unturned in our efforts and are optimistic of our chances. Only Nirmal Chhetri and Joaquim Abranches are with their respective club sides in the AFC Cup and the rest of the boys have been busy with the I-League.
“Everybody knows the way we work, the formation in which we operate and our style. We only have another four-to-five days to combine.
“As far as my injury is concerned, I will get on the field tomorrow to see how it goes,” concluded the Delhi boy.