Three away from being India’s highest-ever

Nilanjan Datta

Are Goals counted? Contrary to the general belief, Indian National Team Captain and Striker Sunil Chhetri says he never ever counts goals. “Goals are just numbers,” he utters to even as he stays three goals away from overhauling Bhaichung Bhutia from being India’s highest-ever goal-scorer. At present Chhetri stays on par with IM Vijayan on 40 International goals while Bhaichung stays at the top with 42.

In a freewheeling interview with, the Arjuna Awardee spoke at length about Vijayan and Bhaichung, the supply-line which has fed him all these years, the SAFF Championship, his most memorable goal and much more. EXCERPTS:

You stay three goals away from being India’s Highest-ever goalscorer. Will it stay on your mind when you take the field in SAFF?
No not at all! In fact, it only struck me when you told me. The fact of the matter stays that had I thought of it, I would have never reached here. If you do so your target becomes narrow. We have come into the SAFF Championship as a Team and we want to do good as a Team. Everyone has a specific role in the Team. It’s not that someone who scores is superior to the other.

Are goals then just numbers?
Absoultely! Unless goals win you matches they don’t matter at all. And as long as the Team wins it simply doesn’t matter as to who has scored them.

You have been contemporaries and colleagues with both IM Vijayan and Bhaichung Bhutia. Have they ever influenced you as a Player and as an individual?
I wasn’t that fortunate enough to play alongside IM Vijayan. But I have been fortunate enough to have watched many of his matches and he is undoubtedly one of the most gifted Players India has ever had.

But at the same time I have been fortunate enough to have played alongside Bhaichung-bhai and I owe a lot to him. He has been a great mentor to me with his teachings both on and off the field. He has helped me a lot to evolve both as a Player and as a Professional Footballer.

Your strike rate stays the best among the trio. While IM Vijayan has 40 goals from 79 matches you have it in 74 matches; while Bhaichung’s 42 goals came from 107 matches. How much does the strike-rate define a striker?
I was lucky enough to have played a part in a Team where I was used to get a lot of balls. Not every striker gets a supply line boasting of Climax Lawrence. Renedy Singh, Steven Dias, Anthony Pereira to name a few. Their sole motive was just to feed me and they fed me with great balls. It’s not everyday that that you get to play with such a Team. It was all teamwork – they looked forward for me to score and helped me at every step.

Maintaining calm is a trait which every striker needs to possess. How have you mastered it?
I haven’t mastered it but I keep on trying. Definitely I have improved over the years and with every game. The more the matches you play the more you mature as a Player and that makes you calmer. Your efficiency increases and it’s pertinent you learn from your mistakes and improve.

A striker will miss loads of goals for him to score a few of them. The most important trait is to create those opportunities for yourself.

Can you recollect any specific goal which you carry with yourself all the time.
I won’t ever forget my equaliser against Cameroon in the 2012 Nehru Cup Final. We had taken an early lead and Cameroon had come back to score two. Then as we pressed, we were awarded a penalty in the dying minutes of the game. The Championship was hanging on a thread and I had to score. The Crowd was behind us and the entire Country was behind us too. Everything depended on that single shot of mine, that penalty. We went on to win in the tie-breaker.

What can we expect from the SAFF Championship? What’s your message to the fans?
I’m trying to keep away from expectations. If you look back, you will see that we have won Tournaments in which we took one match at a time. Every match is a Final for us. We play the first Final against Pakistan on September 1.

TOP FIVE GOALSCORERS FOR INDIA (as on August 28, 2013)
Bhaichung Bhutia: 42 Goals from 107 Matches
IM Vijayan: 40 Goals from 79 Matches
Sunil Chhetri: 40 Goals from 73 Matches
Shabbir Ali: 23 Goals from 72 Matches
PK Banerjee: 19 Goals from 36 Matches