How can players, Stephen Constantine not be happy with each other: Sunil Chhetri
India skipper Sunil Chhetri says he is a better now than when he played the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and that long preparatory camps are not needed anymoreUpdated: Feb 06, 2018 10:15 IST
Sunil Chhetri speaks like he moves in the opposition’s penalty area --- rapidly. The India captain, the country’s highest goalscorer and the first one likely to play two Asian Cup finals, therefore, would have a lot to say in 20 minutes of this exclusive interview.
Q: What are your targets for 2018?
A: To do well in the ISL and the AFC Cup. Throughout my career, I have set short-term targets because they work for me. That’s because I have seen so many players whose careers have ended suddenly through injuries or illness that I tell myself ‘just think about the next game’.
Q: But isn’t 2018 different given that you could be the first Indian to play two Asian Cup finals by this time next year?
A: The Asian Cup is on my mind all the time. I just hope I am as fit and as ready as possible when the squad is chosen. And I hope everyone who thinks they have a chance focuses 200% on being available for selection.
Q: And who would do the selection? There have been reports about India players not wanting national coach Stephen Constantine to stay.
A: You should ask those who are saying this ‘what exactly is it that players are not happy about’. Such reports make things so awkward. We went to the camp and he sat us down and face to face, I told him ‘it is impossible gaff.’
Tell me, why would Gurpreet (Singh), Sandesh (Jhingan), Jeje (Lalpekhlua) or Eugeneson (Lyngdoh) or whoever else complain when they have done well under Constantine. How can it be said that the players and the coach are not happy with each other? I could understand all this being said when we lost 5-6 games in a row (during the 2015-16 World Cup qualifiers) but why now when the team is doing well? We are not the most skilful team but we are willing to work hard. How can you do that if you don’t like the coach?
Q: So there has been no complaint by the players to the AIFF, in writing or verbally?
A: We gave them a lot of things in writing, such as our bonuses and other stuff. And the AIFF has assured us it would be looked into.
Q: Has anything changed for you between the 2011 finals and now?
A: I think I have become a better player. I understand now that how you play depends on how you think. If you are not thinking right --- be it about your skill set or how you are taking care of yourself --- no amount of hard work will help. I now understand what I don’t need to do. I prioritise better on the pitch than 2011.
The difficult bit is to ensure that the body can execute what the mind wants. Because it is only when the amalgamation happens that you get better. To work on your body is difficult because motivation levels usually dip. The performance of any player beyond 30 depends on how well they keep motivation levels up.
Q: 34 this year, how do you do it?
A: I love this game. The more I achieve, the hungrier I get and I hope that never stops. I want to keep challenging (India and Bengaluru FC teammate) Udanta (Singh) for speed and fighting John Johnson to score in training. Being in a good team helps because you are competing with the best. I hope I can keep surrounding myself with people who are hungry to improve. Otherwise you are gone.
Q: How do you think India should get ready for the Asian Cup given that the long preparatory camps before 2011 finals are unlikely to happen?
A: I think clubs have better coaches now from when we last played the Asian Cup. And if all the players are training well and are looked after, you might not need longer camps. It will finally be the coach’s call though.
Q: Players who have caught your eye looking ahead to the 2019 finals.
A: Gurpreet (Singh) and Amrinder (Singh) have improved a lot. I think our goalkeepers are much better than our Fifa ranking (102) suggests. I mean Amrinder and Gurpreet are better than what we are as a team. I also rate Udanta high. The way he terrorises defences and opens the game for us, man! But he needs to score more goals. Rahul Bheke and Harmanjot Khabra too have done really well. I would say Khabra is the most improved player in Bengaluru FC now.
Among the youngsters, Jerry (Lalrinzuala) is doing well. The one guy who really impresses me is (Anirudh) Thapa. Only 20, has the patience and always that extra bit of time like Climax (Lawrence) had. He needs to work on his body though.
Q: Given that you were in long-term relationship, what did marriage change?
A: That a friend now stays with you. The best part is that Sonam (daughter of Mohun Bagan legend Subroto Bhattacharya and a hotelier) knows that you can’t go out in the evening, knows that after training you need to take a nap in the afternoon. In the little time we have, we go for walks, do grocery together and watch Netflix. It’s nice that in Bangalore people acknowledge you but also give you space. I feel bad that we couldn’t have a honeymoon but I have promised to take her on a vacation soon.
Q: Where is the time?
A: I am booked out of India’s away game against Kyrgyzstan (on March 27). Thank God, we have qualified. I could ask the club for a week off after the ISL and we could go then.
Q: Your thoughts on players being auctioned or put in the draft.
A: I don’t like it. A player has to choose the club he wants and a club has to choose the player it wants. Look at what happened to Bengaluru FC. All the players who worked so hard in the Federation Cup to take us to the AFC Cup are not with us this season. Because of the draft, Sandesh, (CK) Vineeth, Eugeneson, Amrinder are not playing the tournament. They didn’t want that and the club didn’t too. Then, the confidentiality about your pay is never there. Contracts are supposed to be sacred, man! But when your salary becomes public your teammates can get jealous. I just hope it never happens again in football.