Amid uncertainty over the proposed merger of the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League, ace striker Sunil Chhetri said on Tuesday a unified competition will open up the window for the national team to play in more FIFA friendlies that would help improve its ranking.
“I want to play all 13 FIFA dates in a year. We need that. That’s where the unified league is going to come in handy. We should prioritise that and ensure the national team gets a chance to play more games.
“Hope we play bigger opponents and away from home as we have done really poorly as a nation away from home. Win or lose, that will at least give us a chance to improve as a footballing nation,” Chhetri said.
“Who would not like to see a merger? One league with more teams, more months is what we all wish for. There are a few technicalities and I am sure they are looking into it. Eventually we will see one league. A unified league.”
Having won the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship, reached a historic AFC Cup final with Bengaluru FC and and the ISL semifinal with Mumbai City FC, Chhetri called 2016 his finest year.
“You can say 2016 was my finest. It went well for the national team, started by winning the SAFF Cup, we reached the final of AFC Cup, we reached the semis of ISL. it was a fruitful season.”
“I have very small time targets, say 10 days, one week. I am only thinking about the Lajong (I-League) game, we are playing them at home. That’s my target.”
Asked if Indian players should strive to play club football overseas, Chhetri said, “If the players have reached a certain level and he thinks he can improve, then he should go. Not only in India, it’s everywhere. Gurpreet (Sandhu, Norwegian club Stabaek FC goalkeeper) has done it very nicely, I have seen him grow up.”
Asked about All India Football Federation (AIFF) president, Praful Patel, pushing for India to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, he said: “We have to come in the first 10 in Asia first. That is going to be so, so difficult. Thailand was with us but now they are playing in the last qualifying round, though they are getting hammered by some teams.
“We have to qualify for the Asia Cup and stay there, try to get 15th, 16th position in Asia and then think about the final journey.”
Asked if Indian football should take a leaf out of Bengaluru FC’s book -- they have won two I-League titles and a Federation Cup since making their debut three seasons ago, Chhetri said, “We are doing the right things, trying our best, all of us are in sync, from owner Sajjan Jindal to the ball boy.”
Chhetri was asked to compare between former Bengaluru FC coach Ashley Westwood and current manager Albert Roca.
He said: “There are lots of similarities with the way they want to win and a lot of differences with the way they want to attack. I learnt so much from them. We have been the best team in the country in the past three seasons. They have very different styles, but the winning mentality is there.”