The Blue Tigers and Bengaluru FC skipper spoke in length on several issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

With little to no action on the pitch, Sunil Chhetri has still managed to make the headlines with his activity on social media in the hope of entertaining and engaging with the fans. Having won over the internet with his gesture towards a fan demanding his Netflix password, the 35-year-old continues to catch everyone’s eye as he invites personalities from various backgrounds to interact with, on social media.

Speaking about the matter at hand in a chat with The Times Of India, the 35-year-old spoke about the changes he expects to see in the game in a ‘post-COVID’ sporting world. He said, “Football is the last thing on my mind at the moment. No one can really tell how things are going to pan out. A lot will change for everybody and that includes football.”

“We will see games without fans and that isn’t something we are used to. The players will be continuously monitored and checked. We also need to keep a tab on the support staff and the groundsmen both at the stadiums and training grounds. No one can really tell how things are going to pan out.”

Asked about whether we could see the game being played behind closed doors, he replied, “No one wants to play in front of an empty stadium. But these are unprecedented times. With football being a team sport and involving around 40 guys in a squad, it will be even more difficult to start the game in our country. We don’t even know when the government will allow us to train. Until a vaccine comes out, we have to be extremely careful. If one player contracts the virus, then the entire league will get jeopardised and we can’t risk that.”

Recently, the AIFF Exectuive Committee decided to abide with AFC guidelines and implement ‘3+1 foreigners’ rule in the I-League starting from the 2019-20 season. “The ISL has seen some really good foreigners plying their trade here but then every club eventually needs to follow AFC’s blue print, which is to have a 3+1 structure. But it has to be implemented in the right way. You can’t suddenly ask a club to reduce their foreigners when they have already signed six foreign players,” he said.

Further, the recent events gave rise to discrimination against people hailing from the north-eastern parts of the country and Sunil Chhetri stepped up to condemn the attacks. “The ignorance is appalling. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you are from – to be discriminated purely on the way you look shouldn’t be acceptable in any country in the world. It is disappointing, but we have a duty to keep educating people to be better,” he added.

Chhetri didn’t enjoy the best of results with Bengaluru FC as they ended the season trophy-less for the first time since their inception. “The fact that an exit in ISL semifinals is deemed as a failure for Bengaluru tells you of the kind of standards the club has set. But we’re a club that’s honest enough to admit we weren’t up to the mark last season. Probably we lacked the killer instinct and we couldn’t seize the key moments. But we’ve been our harshest critics in success and that doesn’t change in defeat. We know where we faltered and we have to use this disappointment to come back stronger next season.”

Further, the national side hasn’t had the best run of results over the past year either but managed to pull off a few remarkable performances. The captain seems to have pinned his hopes on the youngsters in the squad. “There is a new wave of youngsters who are fearless and back their talent. This is why we’ve managed to churn out some impressive, if not successful performances. But there is still so much room to improve and we need to keep our eyes on the bigger picture.”

On the much talked about topic of ‘Finding the next Sunil Chhetri,’ he said, “The transitional phase which Indian football was going through after the retirement of players like (Bhaichung) Bhutia, Renedy (Singh), (Mahesh) Gawli is over. Players like (Sandesh) Jhingan, Udanta (Singh), (Anirudh) Thapa and Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu) have built a strong core. There is a lot of self-confidence in the boys now. It’s a process and we are working hard to build something new.”

At 35, Sunil Chhetri has been at the forefront of developing the game in the country and has played a major part in India’s performance over the last decade. Asked about working on the targets that he had set, he said, “I don’t set targets, so nothing’s really changed. What I want now is for this phase to pass as soon as possible and for us to come out of it as better human beings. Everything else is a bonus.”

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