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Shanmugam Venkatesh: I will play Sunil as the No. 10 with Vijayan and Bhaichung pairing upfront

Indian football legends Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and IM Vijayan. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)
Indian football legends Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and IM Vijayan. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)

It’s a perennial debate and it will stay like that for quite some time, or maybe, forever. But even as most dribble past that million-dollar question on the majestic trio of Indian Football – IM VIjayan, Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri – former Indian National Team Captain Shanmugam Venkatesh, one of the very few to have played with all the three, has a plan for the trio to fit in his team without much fuss.

In a live chat with AIFF TV, Venkatesh, currently the Assistant Coach of the Indian National Team, and the Head Coach with Indian Arrows stated that “it’s an extremely easy decision to fit all of them into any team.”

“Any coach would be privileged to have them available for the team,” Venkatesh maintained. “Sunil can play in all three positions. He is a great central midfielder, and has a great ability to play attacking passes and through-passes. So I would play Vijayan and Bhaichung upfront with Sunil operating from behind,” Venkatesh averred in the live chat.

“Vijayan was a full-package player,” Venkatesh quipped, and narrated how on many occasions, defenders faked injury to avoid going up against the man from Kerala.

“Everyone knows how good a player he was. He was super-talented and gifted. I don’t think there is any player like him now, and won’t be in the future as well. I’ll tell you a story — I have seen it happen myself. Players, including one star defender at the time, faked an injury and sat on the bench so that they wouldn’t have to play against Vijayan,” Venkatesh laughed.

“Another time, in the SAFF Cup in Dhaka, some miscommunication happened and his boots were not available before the match. We had less time. So Vijayan played with my 9-sized boots instead of his 7-sized ones. Amazingly, we won 2-0 and his scored both the goals,” Venkatesh recollected.

Speaking about Bhaichung, Venkatesh hailed the Sikkimese Sniper as “quick and aggressive,” with a sharp eye for goal — unlike any other player he has seen.

“Bhaichung is a very different kind of player. He was quick and aggressive, especially inside the box. I have never seen any striker like him as he used to convert even 30% chances into goals.”

“In all games he used to give us a message at the start of the game about tackling and going for 50-50 challenges which would charge us up. He helped us understand and stay confident mentally at the International level. And that’s his beauty,” Venkatesh, who was named the AIFF Player of the Year in 2004, added.

Talking about Sunil, Venkatesh spoke at length about what makes him stand out from the rest — both on and off the pitch.

“It was under my captaincy that he made his International debut in Pakistan. His beauty lies in the fact that he is comfortable with both feet, and he has worked really hard for that. I don’t think any other Indian player can do that — you can see other players and identify their weaker foot. People know him as a scorer and he so many other qualities — he can make scoring chances also.”

On a lighter note, Venkatesh awarded the “gold medal” for being the biggest prankster in the team. “During my playing days, there were two biggest pranksters in the team. One was Sunil Chhetri – the gold medallist followed by silver medallist Steven Dias. There was a great combination between the two. In the current team, Sunil is still up there at the top but now he is doing it more professionally,” Venkatesh joked.

(AIFF Media)