AIFF Player-of-the-Year Sunil Chhetri has been entrusted with the responsibility of leading India in the AFC Challenge Cup. In a freewheeling interview with www.the-aiff.com, Chhetri spoke at length about the new challenge, feelings and his new role as a mentor. EXCERPTS:
First an Arjuna Award; then the AIFF Player-of-the-Year Award and now the Captain of the National Team. How would you express your feelings?
It’s an honour and a huge responsibility at the same time. The Captain’s armband makes me feel privileged. Obviously I stay the same person as before. And it’s not only me – but all the senior players are always there to guide the younger lot.
You scored three goals in the final when India won the AFC Challenge Cup in New Delhi. What do we expect this time around?
You can never bask on past laurels. We have been drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ and can’t afford to take any of the teams lightly. Every match is a new match and we need to take one match at a time. We need to play as a cohesive unit against Tajikistan.
How helpful was the Preparatory Camp which was held in Dubai?
The Camp was very useful indeed. It helped all of us — be it juniors or seniors. Now we have a clear idea as to what the Coach wants. The juniors are slowly settling down and picking up the technical aspects which one needs to possess to play at the highest level.
You are now looked upto as the mentor of the side?
The National Team is passing through a transitional phase. The senior players who used to act as our mentors have retired from International Football. Bhaichung Bhutia, Rennedy Singh, Deepak Mondal went out of their way to help the juniors. We need to carry on the legacy for the benefit of Indian football.
Fans back home enquire about the status of your injury. What’s it’s status?
I have almost recovered. I need to thank the doctor, the physio and all the other support staff who have been patient with me and worked hard to get me fit.