Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: In today’s dynamic world of football, it’s not easy to go out and perform day in and day out, especially when your performance is being scrutinized from every possible angle. Amidst all of the analysis by all of India’s opponents, Sunil Chhetri has made it look so easy, no matter whichever team he faces.
A day after the talismanic striker surpassed Lionel Messi in the highest scoring active player’s list, courtesy his brace against Thailand in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 opener, Chhetri spoke at a length about the victory, the team, his fitness mantra, debut, getting past Messi and much more.
Did you foresee this day on your debut against Pakistan in 2005?
Never. Not even in my wildest fantasies, I thought that this would happen to me. Playing for my country the very first time was so enjoyable, memorable and nothing less than a great honour. But, I never thought that I would go on to play so many games and score goals for India.
What’s the secret behind your sublime goal-scoring form?
There is no secret behind these results. I am blessed to have played the game with the best of the teammates – both for all my clubs and Country. Both in Bengaluru FC and India, everyone helps me out. They support me and that is very important. I just try to continue doing the best for the team and the result follows.
You have redefined the fitness of late. How do you maintain it?
There is absolutely no secret. You have to just work hard and make sure you train well. Most importantly you need to eat and sleep well. The fact that I love playing Football, and playing for my country drives me to push further. I think I am undergoing the phase when I’m the fastest, fittest in my life. I don’t think age is a barrier for me.
Has the win sunk in already? How did you guys enjoy the victory?
We did nothing to enjoy. It’s just about sticking to the routine. We had the recovery sessions, and now the gym. It’s not done yet and nothing has been achieved so far. It was a decent win but just one win, no more or no less.
What’s the plan ahead?
We have to focus for the 10th, the match against hosts UAE. It will be a very difficult game. If you ask me — without taking anything from Thailand, the least difficult one among the three matches was against Thailand.
The most difficult game one will be against the UAE and lest we forget, Bahrain will be equally tough for us. We are concentrating on the next one now and we need to give a good account of ourselves.
Ashique was deployed in a new role yesterday. How do you analyse his performance?
Pretty good, I must say. It was a new position for him as he generally does not play as a striker. But he worked really hard. Jeje is the talisman for us. He is probably one of the main reasons why we have reached the Asian Cup finals. So it was quite a task for him to fill in Jeje’s shoes.
Before the Asian Cup, you told that defenders have a tough task to cut out. How did our boys fare last night?
It was a top-notch performance by everyone. Right from Gurpreet, Subhasish, Anas, Sandesh, Pritam – everyone was so good. At times, the whole team dig deep to defend, but these four guys have been really solid at the back
Personally, you have ticked many a box for the National team. What next for you?
I don’t think anything about personal achievements at the moment. It’s all about the team and we need to focus on keeping a clean sheet against UAE.
You have surpassed Messi in the highest scoring active player’s list. Isn’t this particular record a special one for you?
No record for me now. After 10 years, probably, when we’ll sit with a drink in our hand will talk about records. (laughs).