In an interview with BFC TV, Indian national football team captain Sunil Chhetri shed light on his footballing journey so far. He opened up about his childhood and talked about all the cities he lived in as a child.
“My mom is from Nepal; father from India, from Darjeeling. I was born in Hyderabad. Because of my father’s job, we kept travelling – Jammu, Calcutta, Lucknow, Delhi. Little that I knew that even my job is gonna take me all the places.”
Chhetri revealed, like most young Indian boys, he grew up wanting to be a cricketer and idolised Sachin Tendulkar. He wanted to be a batsman but he could not afford a bat and pads and his dream was shattered.
“When you are a kid, you go through phases where you think you are going to be the next Leander Paes or the next Bhaichung Bhutia or the next Tendulkar. You don’t stick to one sport when you’re young. So I thought I’m going to be the next Tendulkar. I went to the coach and I said, ‘Coach, I want to bat’. He said, ‘Get your pads and bat tomorrow. We’ll have a net session for you’.
“When I checked the SS bats and SG bats were like some 900-1000 Rupees and the pads were like same 500-800 Rupees. So the moment I realised that the price of the bat and pads was that, finished. The dream finished there. I didn’t even have the guts to tell a guy who used to earn 8000 Rupees, my father, to give me 2000 Rupees just for my pads and my bat.”
Expanding upon his childhood, he shared his experiences of growing up in a middle-class family. He opened up about the times he didn’t have shoes or had to resort to cheating and stealing.
“My father was in Army and we had a humble background. We weren’t poor but come 20th of every month, things started looking little bit tough. I didn’t have shoes sometimes or didn’t had enough money to go for a trial or didn’t had enough money to take care of my diet. But all these things look relevant now. At those times, I wasn’t bothered.
“My father used to cycle till the bus stop and he used to give me the exact change. And I was a cheat, I sometimes used to keep the money in my pocket and not buy tickets. I used to steal money. I asked my mum, ‘I want 50 bucks’. She said, ‘no chance’. I was so desperate that I stole the 50 bucks. She came to know, of course. She tied me to a chair and gave me the beating of my life for 2 hours.
“After 2 hours, she went to her room and she started crying. Then I got really scared. She held me and she said, ‘I’m so sorry that we can’t fulfil your needs that we’re making a thief out of our son’. And that’s something that really shook me. That’s something that really changed things for me. Then I realised that I cannot act like a mischievous, stupid kid.”
Talking about his early days in football, Chhetri recollected how he was spotted by Mohun Bagan and that he never thought he would make a living out of football.
“I played Durand Cup for City FC from Delhi and Bagan saw me there and they wanted me to come. So they gave me a call that we need you in Mohun Bagan. Before that, I never thought I’m going to make a living out of football. I wanted the Indian certificate to get into St. Stephen’s and that’s it, maybe NDA or maybe call centre. Next thing I know, they offered my father a 3-year contract.”
Chhetri then elaborated on his travels abroad and the mixed fortune that he has had to endure. He also talked about his only regret in football.
“So the first trials that I did was for Coventry. Chris Coleman was there and they called me for 15 days. It was January, it was cold and I was battered. I was about to cry. The pace of the game was so fast that I didn’t even have a clue of what was happening. Chris Coleman called me to his room and he said, ‘Your touch is alright, you got footballing brains but your basic is zero’.
“Now when I went to Sporting Clube de Portugal, then was a different feeling. I was training good and the schedule was better. So at Sporting, I was much more happy. The only sad part was that the team was so good that I didn’t get first XI chances.
“I played only 5 or 6 games. I wish I was 20 when I went to Sporting because I would definitely have stayed there. So that’s the only regret that I have.”
The one dream that Chhetri still harbours is winning the AFC Cup. Clearly getting emotional, he talks about he owes everything to football. “Without football, there is no Sunil Chhetri.”