Miles to go before we sleep!

The ISL launch pad: Sunil Chettri, the Bengaluru FC captain, celebrates with team-mates after downing Chennaiyin FC in the Hero Indian Super League on September 30. The ISL has been one of the reasons for Indian football doing well, says Chhetri.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Football has done really well over the last six-seven years in our country. There are a lot of reasons why it has done well and one of them is the advent of the Indian Super League. The league has brought in good coaches, pumped in money and ensured that the sport reaches more people. More people are aware, more people are interested and more kids want to play football. It’s one thing to want to play more football and it’s quite another to have the right infrastructure and the encouragement that is needed. The ISL has addressed these needs.

Right from the time I started playing, I have believed that the media plays a very important role. When I used to play as a schoolboy — for Army Public School and Mamta Modern School, both in Delhi — a few journalists would come to cover the matches at 2.00 p.m. in soaring temperatures. Sometimes the stadiums were empty, but they would be there. Some of them saw something good in me and would write a few lines in my favour. Writing about me just once wouldn’t have a made a difference, but the same journalists continuously writing about me made sure that people interested in school football took notice of me. It makes a difference when you get encouragement and coverage at the right time.

On the flip side, I was once asked if the media criticising me or writing me off affected me. I said ‘no,’ because I will definitely know if I’ve played badly. The first person to know it would be me. When I read about such stuff, which I don’t usually, I don’t bother because what it tells you is that they actually came there and watched the game. That is very important. I’m not sure if everyone understands the nuances of football and that’s where the media plays a very important role.

No matter how many goals I score now, no matter how much the media supports football now, it’s always going to be less because where we want to go is really far away. There is no point in stopping and patting our backs thinking that we’ve done great or that we’ve done enough. I can only hope that the media would continue supporting football.

What happens is when a game starts to become popular, it brings in pressure on everyone to perform better. Everyone gets compelled to perform, in a very nice way, and this is of paramount importance for football right now.

I hope we don’t stop here. I hope we keep pushing each other forward. One thing is for sure. If this sport has to go ahead and if we are to go where we want to, everyone has to come together. We need to keep our heads down and give it our best. Once we do that, it will rub off on each other. Once we look to outperform ourselves and try to get better, we will all reach our targets.