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Who’ll go on playing longer? Cristiano Ronaldo or Sunil Chhetri?

In a candid chat, Sunil Chhetri, captain of the Indian football team, says that he’ll be on the field as long as the passion drives him, and that the response to his video — urging fans to support India — has made him very ‘grateful’.

football Updated: Jun 25, 2018 17:38 IST
Samarth Goyal
Samarth Goyal
Hindustan Times
AIFF,Indian Football,Sunil Chhetri
Sunil Chhetri, captain of the Indian football team, acknowledges fans’ support during the Intercontinental Cup final match, in which India beat Kenya 3-0. (HT photo)

For a nation the size of India, footballing heroes have strangely been few and far between. But we have one now in Sunil Chhetri, captain of the Indian football team, who urged his country — through a video — to come forward and support the Indian team at the Intercontinental Cup final, held earlier this month in Mumbai. India beat Kenya 3-0 and won the trophy, and Chhetri is elated. “I hope this doesn’t end here and they continue to support us in future,” says the 33-year-old player in a conversation with us.

On a personal front, he wishes to go past Cristiano Ronaldo, the ace Portuguese forward and Real Madrid star, who has already scored four goals in FIFA World Cup 2018. (Chhetri, incidentally, is a television panellist for the FIFA World Cup 2018.) In an interview, Ronaldo said that he wanted to play till the age of 41. Talking about his own passion to play for India, the captain says, “Why 41? Why not till 44? I’m going to keep on playing till I know I’m capable of giving [my best] to the team. It can be for the next two years, or it can be for the next 10 years. I don’t know that. But, I’m not going to stop until I stop giving to the team,” he says.

Buoyed as he is right now, it’s unlikely that Chhetri would run out of steam anytime soon. His December 2017 marriage to his long-time girlfriend, Sonam Bhattacharya, has made him a “happier” man. “It hasn’t affected me as a player. That’s separate and that takes place on the training ground and I haven’t changed that way,” says Chhetri. “But yes, I’m much happier now. I’ve started to enjoy life more,” he adds with a laugh.

What has really got him perked up is the response to his video — Chhetri thinks it has stirred up something not just for one match, but for longer. “It was great to see the response, and to see people turn up for the games. I never knew that the video would have such an impact, and I’m grateful to each and every one of [the spectators], for turning up and supporting us. I hope they saw what might happen if they continue to support us like this,” says the player, while in the Capital as part of the FIFA OMBC (official match ball carrier) campaign.

Expressing hope that the fan support continues, he says, “I know, we might not be able to give them a win every time, but I promise them desire, commitment, and most importantly, passion, when we go out on the field.”

Unlike other celebrities who often choose to be diplomatic about their own profession, Chhetri acknowledges that Indian football is far less exciting than football played in other countries. But, he insists, changes are afoot, and argues that the AIFF (All-India Football Federation) is also evolving. “There’s a lot more that’s happening now, in terms of marketing and trying to tell people more about the sport. Look, it’s not going to be an overnight change. It will take time. We have to be patient,” says the captain.

Chhetri is also thankful to Bollywood celebrities, who, he feels, have done enough to spread the message about football by being involved in the Indian Super League. “You can’t ask any more from them,” he says. “You can’t expect someone to leave their jobs and just start working (towards creating a buzz about football in India). They come to the matches , they own the teams. That’s more than enough and I’m really thankful to them for that,” he adds.

Interact with the author on Twitter/@Sammysamarth

First Published: Jun 25, 2018 17:36 IST