Listless in Lisbon: that's how life's been for Sunil Chhetri over the past six months. The India skipper is looking forward to redeeming the season by helping Churchill Brothers in the I-League and the AFC Cup and taking India to the main rounds of the AFC Challenge Cup next month. In this interview over the phone with HT, the striker from New Delhi spoke of going through a confidence crisis and more. Excerpts
Instead of being at the top of your game at 28, you are again in a situation where you haven't had enough game time.
It's comforting knowing that despite not playing regularly in India for over three years either due to injury or because I had joined a foreign club, I am still the second highest India goalscorer in the national league… Now, I can't overstate how much I am looking forward to playing. I am not being arrogant but I'm simply not used to being on the bench.
What happened at Lisbon?
When I went there, I wasn't fit. But after four months of having worked so hard, trained regularly and being told I was doing well, I deserved more game time. But I saw only the academy players being used. I would rather they see me and say I'm not good enough. Twice I warmed up for 45 minutes. I am not a kid anymore, I have to play. Not doing that kills me. I am getting lost in training now. (India coach) Wim Koevermans understands this and is backing me.
So is Lisbon going the way of Kansas City Wizards where you left midway?
For now, I just want to focus on the games Churchill Brothers play in the I-League and the AFC Cup and for India in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. But I want to sit with Sporting Lisbon and tell them that either I start a few games or I leave. I don't want that scary feeling again. I have found out that most players there are guaranteed a number of starts in their contracts.
Your take on AIFF technical director Robert Baan being quoted as saying you have been a big flop abroad?
Initially, I was shocked. Then I calmed down and realised he is such a big personality in world football and if that's his opinion, it must be right. It's motivating me to work harder.
At a glance
The main round of the AFC Cup begins on Tuesday. This is an all-Asian tournament for "developing countries" where 32 teams are divided into eight groups. The tournament was started in 2004.
With Indian teams excluded from the AFC Champions League because they don't fulfil club licensing criteria, this is the only regular international competition they can take part in. The I-League and Federation Cup champions get berths from India.
This season I-League champions Dempo opted out because the wouldn't be able to play home matches in Goa due to the state hosting the multi-discipline Lusophony Games. Churchill Brothers, who finished third in the last I-league, took their place. They will play their home matches in Pune. East Bengal got India's other berth by winning the Federation Cup last September. They will play at the Salt Lake stadium.