Chhetri dismisses Messi comparison, wants Indian football team to be brave with the ball

The Indian football team captain speaks on the comparison with Lionel Messi, the team's progress under Igor Stimac and his future as a player.

Chhetri struck twice in India's win over Bangladesh in the World Cup qualifier.   -  Twitter @IndianFootball

Sunil Chhetri might be among the upper echelon in global football, but he remains grounded to reality. The Indian football team captain has gone past Lionel Messi to become the second-highest international goal-scorer among active men's footballers, but he is quick to dismiss any comparison between him and the Argentine icon. 

“Here’s my take: there is absolutely no comparison between me and Messi. There is no comparison between me and anyone on that list. There are 1,000 footballers and all 1,000 of them, including myself, are fans of Messi. That’s the reality and people who understand football know there is no comparison. What I am proud of is the fact that I have played over 100 games for the country,” Chhetri said in a virtual interaction from Doha on Wednesday.

Chhetri had expressed his admiration for Messi in an earlier interview with Sportstar, saying: “Even before this interview I was stretching and was watching a Messi video. And that really lifts me up. If anyone in the world is sad, just put on Messi video and he’ll be happy.”

READ | Messi or Ronaldo? Chhetri settles the debate

“I love to follow Cristiano Ronaldo, too. For me, it’s a very good example of how much hard work he puts in. When it’s learning, I follow Ronaldo’s stuff more but I just enjoy watching Messi. The kind of goals he scores, his dribbles, his nutmegs, his understanding of the game, his touches are unbelievable,” he had said.

- ISL's four foreigners rule will help Indian strikers -

Chhetri struck a brace in the Blue Tigers’ 2-0 win over Bangladesh on Monday to take his tally to 74 international goals. He now trails only Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 103 goals. The 36-year-old has scored a whopping 52 per cent -- nine of 17 goals -- of the national team's goals in the last two years. The Bengaluru FC captain was also the top Indian scorer, for the fourth year running, in the recently-concluded Indian Super League (ISL) season. 

The resurgent talks of “who after Chhetri?” do not bog him down. He feels the process will eventually bear fruit and that the ISL’s latest mandate of clubs being allowed to field only four foreigners in the starting XI will help the cause.

I don’t take it as a source of pressure. I think we will get strikers who will score more than me. It is a process and takes time. We will have only four foreigners in the (starting XI) from the next ISL season and that will give time to more young strikers. There are only two mantras for strikers - more games and hard work. In the next 10-20 years there will be many players who will be scoring goals better than me. If you keep getting players like me we will be where we are. We will get better players and we will be better. I will give my best till I am here,” he said.

The 36-year-old Chhetri has scored a whopping 52 per cent -- nine of 17 goals -- of the national team's goals in the last two years. Twitter @IndianFootball

 

India’s win over Bangladesh was its first victory in 12 games and the second win since Igor Stimac took over as coach in May 2019. Looking at the progression of the team, Chhetri said he wanted the players to be braver with the ball. “The coaching is very simplified. The issue is that we need a little bit of training and more matches. We have players who are comfortable with the ball and are capable, but it will take time. Not every team can play 30-40 passes like Barcelona. We need to keep the ball and stitch 4-5 passes and make an organised move,” he said.

READ | ISL 2021: Seven years of Chhetri, where are the other Indian strikers?

He stressed the need to play more passes. “I want the team to be a little bit brave with the ball. I think we understand defence, diet and how to take care of ourselves. But many people do not like that we do not keep the ball and I feel the same way. I also want to see my team pass more. I like passing and moving more than any other system. It means you run less and get more 1v1 opportunities and more chances.” 

- No plans of retiring just yet -

When asked about his aim before he hangs up his boots, Chhetri quipped: I would answer if I knew when I was going to hang my boots. I’m not being not arrogant, it's just how I feel. My aim right now is the upcoming Afghanistan game and then I will prepare for the AFC Cup with Bengaluru FC. I make short-term targets and that works better for me.” 

“I take my fitness very seriously. You can criticise my game but the day you say I am not fit, I will be done. I will not be in the team. I may miss easy chances, but it won't happen that I am not fit,” he added.

The Blue Tigers will face Afghanistan at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on June 15 in their final 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. Chhetri's side is out of contention for a slot at the World Cup but remains in the reckoning for a berth at the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

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