Sunil Chhetri might be in the twilight of his career but the captain of the Indian football team isn’t sure when to walk away from the game just yet.
Chhetri, 35, has been the face of Indian football for close to a decade and with 72 goals from 115 matches, is the country’s all-time leading goal-scorer. In fact, Chhetri is only behind Cristiano Ronaldo on the list of active international scorers in world football and as he admits that time is running out as he enters the new year and he tries to guide the team to the 2023 Asian Cup in China.
“I am on the other side of my career. I have already played 112 games for my country and I am not going to play 250 games. That is what I meant that I do not have many games left. I do not know when I am going to stop but I love this game,” Chhetri, said.
“I feel really energetic. So I will keep going as much as possible. But the fact is, I am on the other side of my career and not going to play 100 games more for my country. So, whatever it is, 10, 20, 30, 40, 60, I don’t know how many, but as many as I can, I will give my best.”
In November, the Indian football team were virtually knocked out for 2022 World Cup qualifying round after a 0-1 loss to Oman – it was their second defeat to Oman having lost 1-2 to them in the first round in September – and slipped to fourth in Group E of the tournament.
The Indian team is, however, still in the hunt for a third-round berth for the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers, and will face Qatar on March 26. With some quality players in the side, Chhetri reckons there is no reason why India cannot win the fixture and take a huge step forward.
“We have improved a little bit and have to go a long way. I think everyone who is involved with it, corporate houses, players, coaches, government, AIFF, fans, media have to come together and put the best foot forward to take it to a different level. We are going in the right direction, but the goal is far. We have to work really hard,” he explained.
Chhetri also spoke in favour of the ATK-Mohun Bagan merger, calling it a great deal. The iconic Bengal football club merged with ATK FC by selling the majority stake to the owner of the two-time Indian Super League winners and the merger club will come into existence in June and will compete in the ISL 2020-21. The two sides will, however, play separately in the current I-League and ISL seasons.
While many from the Indian football fraternity have not been in favour of the move, Chhetri, who plays for Bengaluru FC in the ISL, wished both teams well for the future.
“A team like Mohun Bagan which is the best club in the country as far as history is concerned. They have done so much for Indian football, a huge name with East Bengal. (They) coming in ISL, partnering ATK is a great deal and I wish them all the best apart from the two games they play against us (Bengaluru FC),” said Chhetri.