Chhetri looks forward to BFC's redemption and life under Pezzaiuoli
Bengaluru FC skipper Sunil Chhetri is keen to put the disastrous 2020-21 ISL season behind and look ahead to the new stint under Marco Pezzaiuoli.
Sunil Chhetri, who had contracted the coronavirus last month, is inching towards full fitness, slowly and steadily, as Bengaluru FC gears up for its AFC Cup Preliminary Stage Two clash against Nepalese side Tribhuvan Army FC, on April 14 in Goa.
The first few days after Sunil Chhetri tested positive for COVID-19 were the worst of his life. “The first five days, I struggled immensely,” he says. “I have never felt that kind of physical pain ever. It was brutal. You think you will be fine…you are a fit person and nothing will happen….but I really struggled.”
A month on, Chhetri is inching towards full fitness, slowly and steadily, even as Bengaluru FC (BFC) gears up for the 2021 AFC Cup Preliminary Stage Two clash against Nepalese side Tribhuvan Army FC, on April 14 in Goa. “You cannot give a percentage or you don’t know where you are lacking. It is a process and you have to be careful,” the India and BFC skipper adds.
The contest will mark the start of a new era for BFC, under head coach Marco Pezzaiuoli. Following the disastrous 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) campaign, in which BFC finished seventh out of 11 teams and saw its then manager Carles Cuadrat fired, Chhetri expects a response.
“I really expect a reaction. I am the senior one, the captain, and I want it from myself. When you lose a game, sometimes, you start pointing fingers at each other. The good thing last season was that we were so bad… each one of us were so bad, that there are no pointing fingers. Apart from Cleiton [Silva], Suresh [Wangjam] and a few young guys, we were properly bad.”
“But we all know that there is so much room for improvement. Last season was a turmoil. Mistakes were made, heads started dropping and it made us weaker, game after game. We have talked about these and we want to rectify them. And when you have a coach who has so much clarity and experience it really helps. It is a boost.”
Sunil Chhetri netted eight goals in 20 games for Bengaluru FC this ISL season and finished as the ISL’s seventh-highest scorer.
The managerial change has brought in good vibes, Chhetri feels. “It is a very positive change at the club. The youngsters are enjoying it and it has helped that these guys got those minutes in the ISL [last season]. You can slowly see all the nervousness and the jitters go and a stable confident outlook coming about. Suresh has cemented his place. Parag [Shrivas] is a little happier, Leon [Augustine] is wanting to do well, thinking he will get his chance.”
“A new manager has no prejudice. There is no previous baggage of what one can do and one cannot. He will see whatever he sees in training and make up his mind. Everyone knows this, including the seniors, foreigners, Indians. Also, the fact that we were horrible last year, to say the least, gives added motivation to every one of us to perform.”
Chhetri also feels that it is important for the youngsters to not carry the scars from the unpleasant campaign.
“We try and talk to them. What happened was not the ideal way to bring in junior players. The best way is to be winning and you bring in one or two of them. That is the way that works best, world over. Last year a lot of them were pushed into the team because of a variety of reasons,” he says.
“In the past they too hadn’t seen BFC lose that many games. And when we lost, they took a lot of pressure on themselves. So, we did our best to tell them that it was not them and that all of them did better than what was expected. That helped because we don’t want youngsters thinking ‘the club won so many trophies and when we started playing [things went bad].’ That can be detrimental to their progress.
“The new coach has made it clear that he trusts the youngsters and sees a lot of potential. So, they are now freer and the good thing about youngsters is that they don’t dwell on things a lot. More they push the better for the team,” he adds.
Wednesday’s clash against Tribhuvan Army is sure to offer significant cues and Chhetri remains quietly confident.
“We are taking one game at a time. Generally, when I say this, we are the dominant side and it is meant to make us stay humble. But this time I’m saying it and meaning it. We watched Tribhuvan in their last game and they play quite well. You could see the unity and the way they trained. They must have stayed together for a long time.”
“So, we are not thinking about the group stages or who we are going to play next. It’s about one game. And right now, it’s more about what the coach wants from us than about what the other team is doing.
“Ideally, we would have liked more time. We had to stop training [after ISL] and again start. Then stop and travel [to Goa] and quarantine and again train. But it’s exciting to have the fresh ideas he [Marco] has brought in. Looking forward to it.”
“I hope I make the cut… we still have a few days and I hope I make the cut,” Chhetri says with a smile.