Bhaichung Bhutia backs Chhetri's plea

Sunil Chhetri’s appeal to the nation has found an eager taker in former India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia.

File Photo: Bhaichung Bhutia (in picture) lauded Sunil Chhetri for his "hard work and dedication to football."   -  Thulasi Kakkat

Sunil Chhetri’s appeal to the nation has found an eager taker in former India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia. On Saturday, Chhetri had posted a video imploring fans to throng stadiums in large numbers to watch the Indian football team in action.

Speaking at the Sporthood Summer Camp here on Sunday, Bhutia said, “I’ve taken Sunil’s appeal very seriously. I’m going to the stadium tomorrow (at Mumbai) to watch India take on Kenya in the Intercontinental Cup.”

Bhutia echoed Chhetri’s views on getting more people to support local teams. “Over the years, the following for Indian football has increased. Traditionally, the North-East States, Goa, Bengal, Kerala, and recently Bengaluru — after the launch of Bengaluru FC — have had fans who passionately support their local teams. Other parts like Delhi and Mumbai can be better,” he said.

'Big achievement'

Bhutia, who preceded Chhetri as India captain, stated, “I took over as the Indian captain from I. M. Vijayan and left my legacy. Chhetri took over from me, and he has done the job much better than I did. That is a big achievement. I feel very proud that someone like Sunil took over from me.”

While Bhutia explained that Chhetri has surpassed him as India captain, he stated that comparisons between the two were unfair. “I avoid comparisons, not just between Chhetri and me, but in general. You can’t say that (Cristiano) Ronaldo is a better footballer than (Lionel) Messi or vice-versa. But if you see Sunil’s record — the number of matches he has played, and the number of goals he has scored — you can say that Sunil is definitely the best. I have seen Sunil from day one until the time I retired. On Monday, Chhetri will earn his 100th international cap, which is a great achievement. It is all down to his hard work and dedication to football,” Bhutia said.

On the national team’s preparation for the 2019 UAE AFC Asian Cup, Bhutia said, “The Intercontinental Cup is a good tournament, but from now on, the Indian team should play matches outside the country. Playing in countries like UAE, Singapore and Malaysia will be ideal preparation for the Asian Cup.”