Not having a clue about your employers can be disconcerting especially if you are an Indian football pin-up. But for Sunil Chhetri, ignorance is bliss.
"Sure, it would have been awkward if I had in-depth knowledge of the ISL (Indian Super League) teams like I do about teams in the I-League. But since I don't and since I haven't had time to think, I am not too concerned about who will buy me. My goal, therefore, is to be fitter than ever," said the player with the base price of Rs 80 lakh, the highest in the 10 to be auctioned in Mumbai on Friday.
HT linked up with Chhetri at the Bangalore airport on Tuesday morning when he was returning to Delhi for a night. He is scheduled to leave for Mumbai on Wednesday. "I have taken 16 flights in the past one month," he said, over the phone. That included a trip to his ancestral village in Nepal because an uncle had died.
Even last year, when Chhetri couldn't play the ISL because his I-League club Bengaluru FC - with whom he has signed a new one-year contract - didn't let him, it took a while to realise what he was missing. "The ISL semi-final (between Atletico de Kolkata and FC Goa) in Goa had 40,000 in the stadium and 20,000 outside. Less than a month later, we played the Federation Cup final at the same venue and there were less than 300 people including camerapersons. This, for a match with more intensity than most ISL games. It was then I realised that I can't miss this season," said the striker who turns 31 next month.
Chhetri goes into the auctions having scored two goals in two games for India last month. The superb solo effort against Oman helped India draw level in a game India ultimately lost. The goal against Guam was in the dying minutes of a lost game. Chhetri pulled no punches when it came to evaluating a defeat that has left India shaken.
"We owe India an apology. We lost because we were very bad from the goalkeeper to the strikers. I have never seen something like that happen against a team of Guam's ability in my time for India. Having lost 1-2 to Oman after a goal that perhaps wasn't fairly disallowed and a penalty that should have been, our performance was hard to digest.
"With due respect to them, Guam aren't that good. We should dominate them in the home game, I hope we do."
India play Iran next, in Bangalore in September and Chhetri said it is important for the players to remember that they are thin on skills. "We don't have the abilities of a Japan or Australia. There is no Neymar or Messi in our team. So, we can't afford not to work hard," said Chhetri.
The loss to Guam has got some focus on how much or how little India does to groom players. "Yes, some stuff is happening but is it enough? No chance. What we do at BFC is the bare minimum and look at the kind of success it has got us. I wish there was an Ashley Westwood (the BFC coach) in every corner of India or someone with his ability.
"We need to ask why the UAE can hold U-12 leagues and we can't. We need to ask whether we are being able to provide for every kid who wants to play. We need to ask why (Wayne) Rooney and Renedy (Singh) are almost the same when they are 12 but then the gap just widens. I think we haven't tapped even 10% of our potential. Let ISL, AIFF, I-League and corporate meet and try to find a way out of this. I don't think it's impossible," he said.