Sunil Chhetri: Aizawl FC make sure when you visit them you don't get points, like Stoke City
Chhetri and co. are in Mumbai preparing for the upcoming Asian Cup qualifiers.
“Imagine the lanky guy who couldn’t even dive 5 years back. He was always called to the national camp only because of his height and he knows it”, Sunil Chhetri recollects the moment when he first met Gurpreet Singh.
Fast forward five years and Singh is now India’s number one shot stopper and the captain of the national team. Chhetri admits watching his grind has been surreal.
“I remember talking to him 3 years back when he left (for Norway), he was depressed, alone and sad. I told him to just stick there. “Look at him now man! You can’t score against him now. When we do shooting training with him, we can’t see the goal. Every time he comes back from Norway he’s a different person”.
Sunil and co. are currently in Mumbai preparing for the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. India have been slotted alongside Myanmar, Macau and Kyrgyzstan and will open their campaign against Myanmar on March 28. Prior to that, they also have a tricky away friendly against Cambodia to deal with.
Chhetri admits India need to play more matches to improve. Since September 3rd 2016, the national team hasn’t played a single game. “It’s sad, it isn’t very ideal. A team like us has to keep playing international friendlies with better opponents”.
“When you play against a better opponent, you always learn. We would love to play more matches against teams better than us”, he added.
But not playing for a prolonged period, comes as a blessing in disguise. Unlike previous years where India have been clubbed alongside Japan, South Korea and Australia, this time around, clubbed in pot 2, the rivals in question are comparatively less complicated.
Coach Stephen Constantine has always harped about selecting players on current form and not reputation. His selection this time around though, in no way reflects his philosophy. Not a single player from Aizawl FC features in this Indian squad.
A team that currently sits pretty at the top of the I-League standings with nine wins in 14, the highest among all 10 teams. Chhetri though refused to throw light on this predicament.
“I don’t think too much about that man. Selection is something that isn’t in my hands. Aizawl has been doing really well. They make sure that when you visit their home, they won’t give you points. Something like what Stoke City has been doing.
“Even when we go there, we don’t think of getting 3 points directly. Why there aren’t any players from there? That’s something you should ask Constantine”, he said.
But one player who’s ecstatic to be back in the national team set-up is Robin Singh. The imposing striker was out with an ACL tear for almost a year and Chhetri hopes Singh lives up to his reputation. “The day he realises the kind of potential he has! If he wants, he can rise to a different level.
“We don’t have a player like him in our country. I mean Jeje does the work even though he’s not 6 feet but Robin does it effortlessly. For Robin to score a goal in every game is the easiest amongst all of us. If he stands, shrugs of his marker and shoots with his left leg, there’s no chance to stop him”, he added.
Sunil reckons Jeje and Robin would make for an immaculate pair up front. “Imagine if you have to deal with the both of them in a 4-4-2? We’ve got 2 good strikers for the future. But is quick to add, “I mean after 9 years when I leave of course.”