Sunil Chhetri has always been an ‘Arjuna’ on the field; focused and knowing his priorities. And after having being conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award, the Team India striker just couldn’t hide his feelings. In a freewheeling chat with www.the-aiff.com, Chhetri said the award is a motivation to do better.
What does the Arjuna Award mean to you?
It means a lot. Look at the sportspersons who have been honoured with the Award over the Years. And don’t forget the list of footballers in that list too. From PK Banerjee to Dipak Mondal, the list boasts about ‘Who’s Who’ of Indian football. Now that my name is in the list too, besides the honour, it’s indeed a privilege and motivation to do better.
Looking back, how do you look back at your career?
When I started playing football, I never felt I would end up becoming a Professional Footballer. But I was destined to be so. I started playing because the game appealed to me; I started to love the sport. Eventually, it became my profession – my bread and butter. But one shouldn’t play football to gain materialistic pleasure. I just want to tell youngsters to play for their passion. The rest will follow.
Doesn’t the Award come at the right time – just prior to India’s World Cup Qualifier against UAE?
It certainly is a boost. If you perform consistently, you will be awarded – the message is loud and clear. In that sense, all of us would be eager to prove ourselves. It’s a tough challenge.
The last time India played UAE, the result wasn’t up to the expectations. Can India turn the tables this time?
The last time we played UAE, we were hard hit by injuries and couldn’t field our first Playing XI and eight players had to sit out. In football, it all boils down to converting your chances and the manner in which you play on that respective day.
Baichung Bhutia has partnered you upfront in most of the matches for Team India. Post Asian Cup, Jeje Lalpeklua and your partnership has been the talk of the town. How do you describe Jeje?
When I first came to the National Team, Bhaichung helped and guided me a long way and it helped me to mature fast. I feel Jeje is already a mature guy. He has a physical presence and can hold the ball which enables me to make my runs. His shielding of the ball is excellent and that makes my job easier.
What’s your take on the India juniors – the U-20 bunch of boys who are at the Camp? Do you feel Indian football is in safe hands?
I don’t feel they are ‘juniors’ at all. If you play them in the first XI, it won’t make much of a difference. I feel they have already arrived. Jewel (Raja), Shilton (D’Silva), Raju (Gaikwad), Jeje (Lalpeklua), Dika (Lalrindika Ralte) are a conglomeration of unique talent and the right attitude. And when you have such a pool, it makes the job of the coach all the more easier. But at the same time, he has a pleasant headache of having a surplus of choices.
(AIFF Press Release)