AFC Asian Cup: Sunil Chhetri wants more Indian footballers to try their luck abroad
Chhetri cited the example of India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who plays for Norway's Stabaek, as a case study of a foreign stint gone right.
His own foreign stints, be it at USA's Kansas City Wizards or Sporting Club de Portugal, did not pan exactly as well as he had hoped. But Sunil Chhetri has urged more Indian footballers to try their luck in foreign countries.
"I won't name anyone right now, but there are many footballers in India who have a chance to play for international clubs. Not just in Europe, I would encourage young Indian footballers to play for any club which can help them improve and go a level up," Chhetri told journalists on Thursday.
Chhetri is in Mumbai along with other national team probables for a camp at the Andheri Sports Complex before the team plays Cambodia in a friendly in Phnom Penh on 22 March as preparation for their AFC Asian Cup qualifying group game against Myanmar on 28 March.
The India skipper cited the example of India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu as a case study of a foreign stint gone right. The 25-year-old moved to Norway to play for Stabaek nearly three years back.
"I spoke to Gurpreet when he had left for Norway (to play for Stabaek). He was alone there and depressed. Back then I had told him to just stay put. And look at him now! You can't score against him when we do shooting training. Every time he comes back from Norway, he's a different person. In some time, we may hear of him moving clubs to one of the bigger giants in Europe," Chhetri said before adding, "He was a lanky guy who couldn't even dive four-five years back. He was called up for India national camp back then because of his height only. He knows it. He was just this big lump."
Chhetri, who is India's highest all-time goal scorer, also paid rich tributes to his former Bengaluru FC colleague Robin Singh.
"Robin is an asset. The day he realises the kind of potential he has, he can do anything. If he wants, he can go up to a different level with the snap of his fingers. We don't have a player like him in our country. I've seen him shrug off defenders, who are over six-foot tall and 90 kgs heavy, like it's nothing. Effortlessly. Amongst all of us, it is the easiest for Robin to score a goal in every game," he said.
The third striker in the national team's equation, Jeje Lalpekhlua, has also impressed Chhetri with his work ethic. "Jeje does the hardwork, even though he's not six foot tall. He has been outstanding lately. Most importantly, Jeje understands what works for him. He knows what he is good at and he does just that. You would not see him doing stuff that he's not good at. Imagine Jeje and Robin both playing in tandem in a 4-4-2 and if defenders have to fight with both of them. It will not be easy," he said.
Chhetri scored in the 62nd and 71st minutes after Manvir Singh had given India the lead in the 33rd minute in the must-win match for India
The 37-year-old Chhetri, playing in his 121st match for India, struck in the 27th minute to place himself just a goal shy of legendary Brazillian Pele (77 goals from 92 matches).
Talking about India's opponents in the SAFF Championships final, Chhetri praised Nepal’s ability to play as a unit and said that the team is prepared to slog it out on the pitch.