New Delhi, April 26 : For a country obsessed with cricket, it isnt easy being a household name if you play another sport. But Indias football team captain Sunil Chhetri has managed to do just that as he is undoubtedly the face of the game in this country. From a young striker who played second fiddle to the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia to taking on the leaders mantle with elan, Chhetri had done it all.
With 67 goals in his kitty, Chhetri is the second highest international goal-scorer among active players ahead of even Lionel Messi. But what sets the skipper apart from all, is his humility and desire to keep going for the country.
Speaking to IANS on the road ahead both for him and the national team, Chhetri said he will look to keep representing the country till his body permits him to as it has been an absolute honour for him to wear the national jersey.
"I'm happy to do it for as long as my body allows me to. It has been the biggest honour of my life and career to play for the country and I will keep at it as long as I am capable of doing it," he said.
While Chhetri isn't getting any younger, one area of concern is the lack of strikers who can match his class. The Indian forward feels that this is something that clubs in the country need to take notice of and work towards improving the situation.
"We, as a country, haven't been able to produce the number of strikers we should have over the last five to seven years and there are multiple reasons for this.
"The over-reliance of clubs on foreign strikers was a trend that seeped some years ago and that has stayed. That said, players playing in the position need to show more hunger and desire to reach the potential they are capable of, only then will coaches be willing to take a chance with them. It's a tough situation from everyone's point of view.
"Also, a lot of emphasis should be given to finishing skills from a young age. It isn't an easy skill to acquire and is probably the most important one in a game. Repeated and correct training from a very young age will go a long way in fixing this problem. The small details need to be drilled in early," he explained.
While he has done brilliantly for the country, his journey with Bengaluru FC has also been one to treasure as a player and the senior statesman feels that the kind of support that is available at the club makes it a dream to play there. In fact, he says that it has been one of the best rides to play for Bengaluru FC.
"There is no one reason that's responsible for the success the club and I have both enjoyed over the last six seasons. There were systems set on and off the pitch at the onset and these systems were followed religiously.
"Everyone at the club -- from the ball boy to the owners -- have pushed and pulled in the same direction and our success is a result of that. Personally, I haven't been happier and I'm blessed to have played under three fantastic coaches at BFC, all of whom have brought out the best in me," he said.
Emphasising on Bhutia's influence in his career, Chhetri said: "Bhaichung bhai had a big influence on me and I was fortunate enough to spend a considerable amount of time with him while I had just begun my career as a professional footballer. His work ethic and desire were second to none and he always looked out for me."
Harping on the need for clubs to also take responsibility in creating talented strikers, Chhetri further added: "Like I said, everyone involved in the game needs to take the onus of starting early. What will also help is having enough games for the reserve teams, week in, week out. For example if Daniel doesn't get a game for Delhi, or Manveer for Goa, they need to be able to fall back on a reserve team game that week. Efforts like these will go a long way in making our No. 9s better."
(Jagannath Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)