It was Lunch Time and the greet was unmistakable like as when old pals meet. Former India Captain Baichung Bhutia walked in, met the Players and wished them and then went upto Coach Wim Koevermans and the rest of the support staff.
“Come over and watch us train in the evening,” Koevermans invited the Chairman of the AIFF’s Technical Committee. “We want you at the Match too,” the others demanded. Bhutia also walked upto Sunil’s mom who was present and greeted her.
Post lunch, Baichung spoke exclusively to AIFF Media on Sunil Chhetri equaling his record of 42 International Goals and reflected back on his playing days with Chhetri, the qualities which made him “Special” and wished him all the best.
What are your thoughts on Sunil equaling your record of 42 International Goals for India?
He deserves every bit of it. I want to congratulate Sunil and wish him all the luck in the future matches. I want him to score as many as possible and I’m sure he will.
What was your first impression of Sunil?
The first thing that struck me about Sunil was his willingness to learn and improve himself as a Player. He came across as a true professional. He stayed ever willing to do that extra bit and I could see him working on finer points even after practice. He always chalked out time for improvement. That separated him from the rest. He was dedicated, honest and never shied away. Responsibilities? It came naturally to him.
Sunil has always looked upto you and mentions about your influence in his life.
(Smiles) To be honest, I’m very proud of him. I’m proud of the fact that I have been there for a major part of his achievements. A major number of his Goals were scored when we played together. Obviously he has scored quite a few post my retirement and reiterate that he will score many more, but we will always cherish the moments we spent together. In fact, everyone in the team will treasure those moments. Sunil’s biggest quality stays his eagerness to know and learn. He still stays the same person.
So the Master has passed on the baton to his disciple.
(Smiles again) There’s no passing of the Baton. To be where he is now deserves credit and competence. Scoring goals isn’t easy and here you are talking about 42 International Goals! He has carved a niche for himself. No one can take it away from him. He has achieved it himself but has achieved it for all.
How do you see Sunil as a Leader on and off the field?
It will always take time to earn the trust and faith of your Team. I Captained the Team for some eleven years and wasn’t a natural Leader right from day one. What is achieved on the field percolates down to each and every member of the squad. Off the field, you just cannot arrive at the scene and earn trust instantly. To earn the confidence of all will always take time.
You walked into the National Camp after long. Do you feel nostalgic?
A Player will always cherish the days when he donned the National Team jersey; that will always stay prized possession. And I had been there for so long. But I don’t miss the days much. My retirement was planned much in advance. It’s not that on a certain day I woke up in the morning and felt I had to retire. I had pretty much decided that I would hang up my boots after the Asian Cup. Off-course, I wanted to play and retire.
Looking back, there are no regrets. There is life post retirement and I’m enjoying it. Responsibilities crop up at every step. But yeah, all of that can’t ever snatch away my playing days, especially with the National Team.
(Interview & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)