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Sunil Chhetri Exclusive: The mind says right decision, kid in me says, ‘one more game’ | Football News

Sunil Chhetri ending a conversation with a “thank you” is normal, him beginning one with that is not. But since announcing on social media that he will retire the India shirt after the World Cup qualifier on June 6, Thursday had been different.

Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri(PTI)
Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri(PTI)

“I have got a lot of love and support from the media and that needs to be acknowledged before we talk about other things,” he told HT over phone from Bhubaneswar. The “other things” being his journey that will end one week from 19 years after it began. “I was not always good but I always gave of my best. I enjoyed the ride,” he said in the interview.

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Is it possible that the announcement will mean pressure on you and the team?

I am already feeling lighter. I recovered from chicken pox and trained for 12 days before reaching the camp and I feel outstanding. I have never really let pressure affect me but now I feel at ease. And I told the players today morning so that they can get over it as well. We hugged and that was it. From now, it will be only about Kuwait.

Why now?

It started from an instinct which came suddenly after the games against Afghanistan (in March). I started thinking about it because acting on an instinct is not what I wanted to do. I didn’t take anyone’s help as I analysed where I was at my international career, what lay ahead and what the team needed. And I thought this was the right time because in my head I was done.

India needed to look beyond me and whoever tries being the next No.9 (usually the striker’s shirt number though Chhetri wears 11) would need time. If we make it (to the third round), we will get games against a number of top teams and some quality friendlies. We will play in the third round without pressure and that will give contenders enough time. Because you will not miss more than you score.

Does India have players who can do that?

A lot of them but it is such a specific job. It requires a lot of training in games. As far as talent and hunger go, we have guys who can do that but then, it is different when you play for the country and it doesn’t help if you haven’t played enough. Which is why I genuinely want to win this tie because, as I have said, it will give our strikers time to grow in international football.

Granted you have been thinking about it for a while but has it sunk in?

In a way, yes. But I do have bouts of sadness which I hope will fade away. The mind tells me, “you did the right thing” but the kid in me says “one more game, one more camp.” That is a fight I have at least once a day but I genuinely think I have taken the right decision.

Did you speak to family about it?

No. I told my mum, wife and dad after I had decided. Because people who love you can say what they think based on their experience and that may not match with yours. I did not want that to happen. Instead, I took my time, and told them once I had decided.

Were they alright with it?

Dad was okay but mum and Sonam (wife) were crying. For a long time, they have spoken about pressure and my schedule and here I was telling them that I will retire and they were crying. They couldn’t tell me why though. It was unbelievable. They are better now. I think my telling them that I am happy with the decision has helped. And I also said, “don’t worry, I still have a year at Bengaluru FC. You will still see me being abused on social media, you will still see me missing goals.”

Your club career took off in Kolkata and so it is like completing a circle. But wouldn’t it have been better had the farewell happened in New Delhi?

No. I will probably end my career at Bengaluru FC and maybe that farewell can happen in New Delhi. I love all the stadiums I have played in and have some fantastic memories from Ambedkar Stadium (a Nehru Cup title and the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup final where he scored a hattrick) but I am so happy that I am ending in Kolkata. Because if not Kolkata, where? Especially given my attachment to the city. And the way they deal with the national team is unbelievable. I am also happy that it is a World Cup qualifier we must win.

Have you thought of life without football?

One thing at a time. I have cried in the washroom for a couple of days after I decided this. The good thing is this: the retirement is not because of aches and pains and that I can’t beat players in fitness tests. It is about moving on. I can still enjoy football (at Bengaluru FC). The day I stop doing that will be scary.

Moments in your career you would like to pick as special.

All the qualifiers for Asian Cup finals. In Hyderabad and then New Delhi (2008 AFC Challenge Cup), the game against Kyrgyzstan in Bengaluru (2017), against Hong Kong and Afghanistan in Kolkata (2022). I have been blessed to play 150 games, some outstanding, some horrible, but flashes of recollection from these games have been coming more often. Apart from my first game against Pakistan (in 2005). And I hope that the Kuwait tie tops all of these.

What happened in the two games that preceded the Kuwait tie?

We were rubbish and as players we need to accept that (India drew and lost to Afghanistan). Missing goals away and not keeping our cool at home. Manvir (Singh), Liston (Colaco) and I missed three good chances early (in Guwahati). 3-0 and the game would have been done and dusted. And then, 1-0 up as they were chipping away, we lost composure and conceded from long balls. We have struggled in games we are expected to win. In terms of skills and fitness we have improved but we need to manage games better. We have another chance, we are playing at Salt Lake against a team we can beat.

Plans after June 6?

June 7 will be spent crying, mostly. From June 8 I will be with the family. They will need assurance that I am okay. And possibly from July 1, we start pre-seasons.

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