I am better than Messi and Ronaldo in terms of giving their best for the National team: Sunil Chhetri
Sunil Chhetri acknowledges support after winning three trophies, aims for Asian Cup and believes he can outshine Messi and Ronaldo for the national team.
If there's one name on every Indian's lips right now, it's that of Sunil Chhetri, the captain of the Indian football team, who lifted the 2023 Bangabandhu SAFF Championship in Bengaluru last week. The 38-year-old, however, humbly acknowledges the support, adulation, and encouragement he and the rest of the Blue Tigers have received.
"It has been great, the support, right from day 1 (of the tournament). On the pitch, the way fans were and encouraged us throughout the game was something special and something magical. Also, the fact that Kuwait and Lebanon—who were India's opponents in the final and the semi-finals, respectively—are not exactly SAFF teams. They were invited, and they are really good quality sides. So beating them, competitions like them, also felt great," he told us over the phone.
At the same time, Chhetri, who acknowledges a positive change in the attitude and awareness of fans towards Indian football, insists that both the team and the fans stay cautious and stay real. "There was never a problem with the match-going fans, but yes, there has been an increase in the number of people who have started talking about football, and I think that's a really good thing. I can sense the atmosphere is changing. But at the same time, I know we have jumped up a few ranks, we still have a long way to go. We have to just keep up the good work and stay focused on where we want to reach now," he added.
The next aim, Chhetri says, is to perform well in the upcoming Asian Cup. "The Asian Cup is like the World Cup for us. It is right at the very top of our list, and therefore, performing our best there is paramount. I don't mean to put this pressure on the boys, but we should be qualifying for the Asian Cup every time," said Chhetri.
"Right now, international football is such that no one knows what will happen, and underdogs, too, can win! You just never know what is going to happen in football. That's why we have to give our best, and that's a message I am trying to send to the rest of the team," he added.
He has been the captain for more than a decade now and is arguably one of the most decorated skippers of all time. His individual stats for the team prove he has been leading the team from the front. Chhetri is in the all-time top 10 list of highest goal scorers for their international teams, right alongside the names of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
"There's no comparison with the rest of the nine names on the list. I mean, I am a fan of players like Ronaldo and Messi, just like so many other fans of them. There's just no comparison, and I don't take this list, or whatever this list is, too seriously. But, yes, when it comes to representing the national team, I can be even better than them," he said.