Sunl Chhetri said with age, he is more aware of his game than before and knows exactly what works for him
The never-ending queries on retirement notwithstanding, inspirational Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri on Wednesday said he is not hanging up his boots anytime soon as his hunger to perform is still intact even though finding motivation can be difficult sometimes.
The 36-year-old, who scored two superb goals against Bangladesh to lead India to a 2-0 win in the World Cup qualifier match in Doha on Monday, also refrained from setting any long-term targets.
“I’m not thinking about hanging my boots. I’m not arrogant here. I am enjoying my football. I have never been fitter than now. I am 36 but the zeal and hunger of playing for the country is still there,” Chhetri said in an online interaction from Doha.
“A lot of people ask I am 36 and how long I will continue. I am not bothered. People will have opinions and I am fine with that. The day I don’t enjoy my football, I will go, I will not be there.”
He said with age, he is more aware of his game than before and knows exactly what works for him.
“The only difficult part is the motivation. The older you get and more you achieve, the motivation goes down.”
India coach Igor Stimac, on Tuesday, lavished praise on Chhetri saying that he trains and plays like a 25-year-old.
Chhetri went past Argentine maestro Lionel Messi as the second most prolific scorer among active footballers with his 74th strike for the country in his 117th match.
But he dismissed any comparison with Messi or any player in that category.
“I am not annoyed with this comparison but my take on it is this: there is no comparison whatsoever with Messi or any player in that category. There are thousands of players better than me. People who understand football, they know it,” he said.
“I am proud of scoring 74 goals for my country. Till the last match I play I will give my best.”
Asked about his targets for the future, Chhetri said, “We have a match against Afghanistan (on June 15) and after that my club BFC will play in the AFC. I am not looking beyond that.”
He conceded that the “results have not been that great” but said the “silver lining is that a lot of young players are getting to play”.
Courtesy Chhetri’s double strike in the 79th and 92nd minute against Bangladesh, India (six points from seven matches) are in a strong position to advance to the next round of the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers. They are already out of reckoning for a World Cup berth.
Talking about the shortcomings of the team against Bangladesh, Chhetri said, “We were trying too hard and we were not sharp enough at the final third. But that happened because we were not playing together for long.”
Chhetri was seen gesturing to Stimac while he ran into the coach after scoring the first goal against Bangladesh, and he said he was “apologising” for missing a sitter earlier.
The star striker failed to score from a header just minutes before he netted India’s opening goal.
“I should have done better and it was a simple tap-in. So, I was kind of apologising to him (Stimac).”
Chhetri said the players, including him, were enjoying the style of football under Stimac.
“The players are enjoying possession based football and I am also enjoying. I like this passing and moving system. It gives more one-to-one movements and more chances to score.
“The coach encourages to keep the ball, not like FC Barcelona — that we can’t do. But we can stitch 5-6 passes and make more organised moves and a bit sharper while attacking,” he said.
Asked in which area, the team needs improvement, he said, “We know how to be fit and how to defend. But I feel going ahead, we need to be braver with the ball. But it will come after we play more matches.
“This technical aspect will get better only when we play more matches. So future is bright.”
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