Indian football's stakeholders must look to sustain smaller clubs, says captain Sunil Chhetri

New Delhi: India's football captain Sunil Chhetri has thrown his weight behind smaller clubs plying their trade in the national domestic leagues. Speaking at an event hosted by Football Delhi in the capital on Friday, Chhetri, who is also the country's most-capped player, urged that the interests of such clubs must be taken into account by the decision-makers while planning the course of Indian football.

Indian footballs stakeholders must look to sustain smaller clubs, says captain Sunil Chhetri

File image of India captain Sunil Chhetri. PTI

“Shillong Lajong is a brilliant example of a club which produces so many talents. It takes money, hard work to bring a club up, to make it run. I never wish that a club would shut down. I hope the stakeholders who are taking the decisions will take into account these clubs when it comes to making plans,” said Chhetri.

Further, he reaffirmed his stance on the need to alter the allocation of AFC Cup spots to Indian clubs. Last November, Chhetri, who captains Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League (ISL), had posted a video on Twitter, advocated that the AFC spots be awarded to the league-stage winners instead of the eventual champions.

“I did it not because I am a Bengaluru player. I did it because I care about Indian football. You play 18 weeks to win the league, and the league winners should be rewarded,” Chhetri said.

“I think when you work hard as a team for 18 weeks, you deserve to be called the champions of India. The minimum that you deserve is an AFC slot. I’m not saying it because of what’s happening right now. But last two years, I’ve played for clubs that have won the league and eventually lost the trophy.

“The semi-finals are great for the fans, the atmosphere, everything is interesting and then they’re getting the ISL trophy. But I believe the AFC slot should go to the one who’ve worked so hard for 18 weeks because it’s not easy to be consistent for 18 weeks. I just hope that sooner or later, the rule changes,” Chhetri had said in the video.

India's highest goal-scorer also shed light on his discipline and dietary habits, and advised the budding footballers to never stop dreaming.

"We don't need a next Sunil Chhetri for Indian football to grow. We need players who are much much better than what I am, and we have enough talent in the country. In coming years, you will not be seeking a next Sunil Chhetri, you will get players miles better than me," he told the audience.

The 34-year-old, who began his career in Delhi with City FC and has also represented the capital in Santosh Trophy, also rued the lack of crowd support for the local Delhi Dynamos team in the ISL.

"When I used to play here, we had an amazing crowd and packed stadiums. People used to come in large numbers to watch the national team at the Ambedkar Stadium," he said before urging Football Delhi to find ways to draw more crowd.

"If you have any issues, sit together and talk. When you talk, ideas come up, and when ideas emerge, you are compelled to act. Every capital in the world has a sports culture and is the sporting hub of that country. Why can't it be the case with Delhi?" he said.

Earlier, Football Delhi president Shaji Prabhakaran honoured Chhetri with the inaugural 'Football Ratna' award. Last month, Prabhakaran had declared Chhetri's birthday - 3 August - as Delhi's Football Day.

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Updated Date: Feb 16, 2019 12:59:56 IST

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