The former Blue Tigers captain expressed concerns over the country’s failure to produce quality forwards.

An everlasting issue with the Indian national team over the last few years has been that there hasn’t been a pool of consistent, highly-talented players like Sunil Chhetri playing together. While the national team’s ‘captain fantastic’ is determined to stretch his career for as long as possible, the reality is that he will have to hang up his boots sooner rather than later. Former Blue Tigers skipper Bhaichung Bhutia also has doubts on whether any other striker can pick up the mantle from Chhetri after he retires, due to most of them lacking consistency.

In an interview with IANS, Bhutia said, “It is a big worry because after Chhetri there is nobody else. It is very difficult to answer why they (strikers in Indian football) are losing their way. Consistency, I think, is very important. Jeje (Lalpekhlua) suffered lots of injuries and now his age (29) is also not in his favour.”

“However, Jeje has done a good job. I think it’s injury that is the main reason. Balwant (Singh) also suffered because of injuries. That is what I am saying, they didn’t get to play because of their injuries. But, then, it’s very difficult to say why they lost their way. I will say it is very important to be consistent.”

Moreover, Bhaichung Bhutia doesn’t believe the All India Football Federation (AIFF) can have much of a say about the players’ fitness levels, as the clubs are the ones paying their salaries. He explained, “Federation can’t do much. Clubs are paying the salaries and they would want to win trophies and they want players to perform. Since the clubs are paying the salary, federation cannot tell them you have to play this or that player. They cannot say unless they are willing to pay their salaries.”

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He believes that there will be a lack of quality goalscorers for the Blue Tigers after Chhetri leaves and there must be special training programmes introduced from the grassroots level to help develop more strikers. 

Bhutia explained, “Definitely, I think. Lack of strikers is a problem. It depends on the clubs because everyone is facing this problem. Yes, there will be (a dearth post Chhetri). We need to focus more on the strikers from the grassroots level. Special training programmes for strong attacking technique from the grassroots.”

The national team’s success has been hugely dependent on Chhetri’s performances in recent years and as Bhaichung Bhutia indicated, there’s a need for better training methods to cultivate better goalscorers, who can fill the void left by the Indian national team captain in the future.

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