Interview: A longer league is better for Indian football, says Sunil Chhetri
The Indian striker speaks about Delhi Dynamos, the ISL semi-finals and the future of Indian football.
Mumbai have the meanest defence in this year’s ISL, having conceded just 8 goals in their 13 matches. The striker spoke in depth to the media on a wide range of topics ahead of their top of the table clash against Delhi Dynamos FC.
What are your thoughts on Mumbai qualifying for the semi-finals for the first time?
I feel very happy but this is just the first stage. When I arrived here, the team was already in a good position. Everyone looks fit and there are no injury concerns. We will take it one game at a time, and are not thinking about any glory. I’ve played enough to understand that you cannot think about the final because there’s a huge semi-final in between.
What do you think are the reasons behind the team’s success this season?
One of the reasons why we’re doing well this season is because of Diego Forlan. He has been very influential, not only on the pitch but also off the pitch. He mingles with all the players and his experience is unique. He is a voice in training. We’ve got an able coach and coaching staff. We’re sitting comfortably in first place but we’re not complacent.
The whole team looks very united. I’ve heard that there are groups in the other teams but I can say that there are any groups here. We’re all one and united, probably that’s why we’re doing well.
How do you manage to keep your body in prime condition at the age of 32?
The guy on my right (Forlan) is fitter than me and you should ask him his age. You have to work really hard. Your recovery, the way you train, what you eat becomes very important.
When you’re younger, you tend to take a few things for granted. As you grow old, you have to start thinking very carefully about the minute details. When I see Forlan at the dining table or the gym - even today - when the entire team was resting, he was practising long strides.
If you really want to be at your best, you have to go that extra mile. That’s what I do. What I used to eat when I was younger is something that I can’t do now. When you become a little older, you sleep more, so that helps. There are guys like Udanta who I am competing with, so you have to be very careful about how you take care of your body.
Your thoughts on the future about the Indian Super league?
One league is going to be good. People like you and the federation understands this. A longer league is beneficial for everyone. We should also bring in more states. How they’re going to do it and when, that’s not up to me to decide. One day maybe we will see 20 teams. I’m sure with the kind of talent we have in this nation, we can have more clubs.
It doesn’t matter what the league is called. A longer league with more opportunities for Indian players, with more able coaches, and a professional set up is what we would love to see.
Did you face some difficulties when switching from Bengaluru to Mumbai?
Adjustments, yes. Difficulties, I don’t think so. It’s easier when you come to a team which is already doing well and everybody understands their job. I was also constantly chatting with the coach and before coming here, I had just three days. But we’re very well fed, in terms of information and the way we need to play.
Having players like Sony Norde, Forlan and Defederico up front, it’s not very difficult. You just have to understand their mentality and go with the game. I am used to it now.
Do you think Delhi Dynamos have been playing better football than Mumbai?
They are doing well. I’ve seen a few of their games and they’re one of the better sides in the league. I don’t know if I can compare them with us. It’s different because we were playing against Kerala and they had come after playing two good games. Nobody would have thought that we would have beaten them 5-0.
We went to Goa and thought it would be an easy game but it wasn’t. You can’t predict what’s going to happen next. I think we’re doing quite well for ourselves and I wish them all the luck.
By the time you play Delhi, you’ll have a clearer idea of whom you will play in the semi-finals and you can play the game accordingly. Is that a fair assessment?
There is no calculation as to who we want to face or who we want to avoid. We’re just happy that we’ve qualified.
We will try our best to win the match so that we go in as a confident team into the semi-finals. We’re not here to think about drawing the game. Whoever we get, we’ll try our best to win that game also. Technically there are a few things that the coach wants us to improve on. If I tell you about it now, the coach wouldn’t like it!
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