Geared up for the new season

Bengaluru FC has got some great young talent and I always enjoy competing with them on the physical front. I’ve never set targets and that won’t change this season. I want to score as many goals as I can, but helping the team in its hunt for titles will always be my biggest driving factor.

Sunil Chhetri is impressed with the work of the newly-appointed Bengaluru FC coach, Albert Roca (right), and his assistant Carles Cuadrat.   -  PTI

It is nice to step back on the field, chase a ball, pick up a bruise or two and give the laundry guy at the club a tough time with all the soiled gear. While it was fun talking football, wearing smart-looking but unfamiliar apparel in the controlled atmosphere of a studio, I will always feel more comfortable on the pitch.

Pre-season for Bengaluru FC and I have officially begun. I had a fantastic time off-season, but I cannot begin to tell you all that, how much I missed the pitch and the buzz of a dressing room. By the end of last season I was exhausted, but we had an I-League trophy and a place in the last eight of the AFC Cup to show for.



 

Hosting the EURO wasn’t the easiest of tasks and so I rewarded myself with two holidays — one with the family and the other with my close bunch of friends — and I had a great time unwinding. I gave myself a free run of sorts with the diet but then had to rein in every now and then, thinking about the effort it would take to shed the excess.

The life of a footballer is not easy as we are playing almost throughout the year — I-League, ISL and national duties included. You’re actually living out of a kit bag with incessant travels. The comforts of a hotel are not really as comfortable as they seem. There’s always the craving to sleep on your bed, to be around your family and find joy in home-cooked food. But you sign up for a nomadic life as a footballer and there’s no point moaning about it. The trick is to make the most of your off-season, which is exactly what I did. I love travelling and while football has taken me to many countries across the world, it’s just not the same as compared to a holiday when you have nothing to worry about.

That said, I did hit the gym every now and then during the break, simply because as an athlete you can’t afford to completely switch off. You put those small sessions in so that pre-season isn’t the monster it can turn out to be. My pre pre-season routines are usually in the gym and I don’t really get on the pitch till training officially starts. You don’t want to do too much and stand the risk of picking up an absolutely needless injury.

You up your tempo gradually — shake off all your rust and sharpen every aspect of your game — when the official pre-season starts at the club. The first few days involve testing to give the coaching staff and yourself an indicator of where you stand and where you actually need to be. We also spend a fair bit of time in the gym, working on our strength.

New season, new coach, new desire

Our pre-season at Bengaluru FC started on August 1 and it was nice to come back home and reunite with the lads. A lot has changed since we won the League in May. After leading us to three titles in as many seasons, Ashley Westwood and the club decided to part ways, paving the way for new coach Albert Roca. While our achievement under Ashley was phenomenal, I believe I have played enough football to know that change is an integral part of the sport.

The new coach and his assistant, Carles Cuadrat, come with immense experience having spent five years under Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona. They’ve worked with the best and it shows with every passing session. The systems are new and we’re slowly getting into the rhythm the coach wants us to adopt. It’s challenging and exciting in equal measures to learn new things and keep evolving as a player.

Contrary to popular belief, this season will be our toughest as we have raised the bar and the lads realise this. Everything we do will be compared to the last season, but in football, you can’t rest on your past laurels.

Asian challenge

We have just a little more than a month before we play our first game of the season — it might well be our most important game — against Tampines Rovers in the AFC Cup quarterfinal.

Our AFC Cup campaign didn’t start off on the best possible note, but we stood together as a team and slowly but surely clawed our way back into the mix to finish second in the group and make it to the round-of-16. The pre-quarterfinal was a single-leg affair that saw us travel to Hong Kong to play Kitchee, which meant that we were battling a champion team in its backyard.

We conceded early but showed enough fight to regroup and win the game 3-2, giving us a shot to qualify for the semis. This time it is a two-legged tie and we hope to take an advantage to Singapore for the second leg. If I am not mistaken, only two other Indian clubs have ever made it to the semifinals of an Asian competition and we’d love to be the third one and even go further.

On a personal front, I feel as good as ever. It is funny that how when the season is on, you yearn for a break. But the moment you don’t wake up to an alarm, you miss the life on the pitch. We’ve got some great young talent and I always enjoy competing with them on the physical front. I’ve never set targets and that won’t change this season. Of course, I want to score as many goals as I can, but helping the team in its hunt for titles will always be my biggest driving factor.

Bring on the season!

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