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ISL should have a reserve league: Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri celebrating a goal in the ISL (Photo: ISL)
Sunil Chhetri celebrating a goal in the ISL (Photo: ISL)
Mohak Arora
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 18 Sep 2020, 17:07 IST
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Indian national football team captain and all-time leading goalscorer Sunil Chhetri opines that the Indian Super League (ISL) should have a reserve league to provide more game-time to fringe players in the squads.

In a chat on a Hindustan Times podcast 'A View From The Stands', the 36-year-old got candid about Indian football, how far it has come since he made his debut, and how it could further improve over the next few years.

Comparing the present situation to when the nation's top league was rebranded as the I-League, Sunil Chhetri said:

"There are talks about Indian centre-backs and strikers not getting enough chances, which is partially true but if we see the larger picture, many more players can think about taking football as a profession. With the I-League and now the ISL, a player can plan his future professionally as it's much better compared to when I started out 15 or 18 years ago.

Sunil Chhetri, who is the holder of the second position on the all-time ISL leading goalscorers list, continued:

"Most clubs try to fill their quota of 4 or 5 foreigners with centre-backs, strikers and maybe a creative midfielder and hence there is a difference in the number of wingers and stopper backs in the country.
"If we have 14 teams in ISL, 14 times in the I-League, a stronger third division, then we can have more competitive leagues in the country, players can play at the best level with the best coaches but if you are not playing matches, it's no use. Simple maths and simple formula."

A Reserve League in ISL?

Sunil Chhetri believes ISL should have a reserve league
Sunil Chhetri believes ISL should have a reserve league

Talking about 24-year-old ATK Mohun Bagan FC forward Manvir Singh, Sunil Chhetri said:

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"I was discussing with someone about Manvir (Singh). When I look at him in training, he is an absolute beast, he is a great boy, very honest, he is a good striker but he will never know how to score goals unless he plays more matches. Because you can only get to know that when you play matches.
"When he comes to the national team, he is still the most hard-working but for a coach to play him in the starting XI because he doesn't know what to do in a match-situation and we can't blame Mr. Stimac for not picking him."

Taking an example of a hypothetical match between Bengaluru FC and ATK Mohun Bagan FC on a weekend, Sunil Chhetri quipped:

"We should have a reserve league in which players like Suresh, Amarjit, Manvir who don't start in a match on supposedly Saturday, they play in the reserve league on Sunday in a match between the reserve teams of the same two clubs."

Sunil Chhetri feels that certain fringe players will never know what to do on the pitch unless they play, so more of these legit tournaments happening in the same time frame will help Indian football. He opined:

"The more teams participating in professional leagues, the better it is for the players. From 10 teams, we have reached to 20 now and we can increase it to 30 to 40 so more young players can get chances at the top level."
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When asked whether India has the infrastructure to accommodate 30 to 40 professional football teams, the 36-year old said:

"Let me take you back to three months before ISL, we all thought how are they gonna do it. Someone like Reliance and MGR coming in got eight grassfields of the highest quality with proper dressing rooms ready across the country.

Sunil Chhetri concluded:

"In a diverse country like ours, if everyone comes together, it's not gonna be difficult and certainly not impossible. We are about to host an ISL in Goa, so imagine the no. of pitches that are available in a single state.We can achieve so much if this goes right and we will be miles better than what we are now."
Published 18 Sep 2020, 17:07 IST
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