On the cusp of breaking Bhutia’s record, Chhetri remains grounded
Sunil Chhetri is on the threshold of yet another milestone. Breaking records and adding laurels to his already well-adorned cap seems like hardly a new thing for the recent Padma Shri winner, but the upcoming King's Cup match against Curacao on June 5 will mark a special feat for the Indian talisman. If, rather when, Chhetri walks out on the Chang Arena pitch in Buriram, it will be the Indian football icon's 108th appearance in national team colours - one which will see him go past the legendary Baichung Bhutia to become the nation's most-capped player.
To recall, Chhetri equalled Bhutia's record in India's last AFC Asian Cup 2019 group stage match against a Bahrain. The achievement will be a special on for Chhetri on a personal level too, considering Bhutia played a major role and was sort of a mentor for Chhetri during his formative years.
The 34-year-old, however, hinted that even though the milestone was a welcome one, all that matters to him was representing the national team to the best of his abilities. "I never think about 100+ games, the number of goals I have scored. All of that is kept aside for talks after I retire. I feel proud when people around me keep reminding me that every record is in your name, and here we are talking about a country’s history. For someone who never even dreamt of playing for his country, or even of making it professionally, it’s unbelievable," Chhetri stated during a media interaction before the team left for Thailand.
"I have never got a time where I can sit back and think about how much I have achieved. I am just happy that I am playing for my country, happy that I am training. What’s really good is that I am really enjoying now. I don’t take it too seriously. I don’t get carried away. Such moments won’t last for ever. I want to enjoy every bit of it," he added.
Chhetri is also India's highest scorer on the international stage with 67 goals to his name.
The veteran striker also revealed that he felt that he was as fitter than he has ever been and the passion to don the India jersey hasn't waned a bit even after almost 15 years of playing for the national team.
"It may sound strange, but I am the fittest in my life at the moment. It’s a bit weird when I say this, but it’s true. I think the knowledge and discipline are the highest in my life right now, in terms of taking risk, in terms of having the right food, and in terms of training - and that’s probably why I am this fit," he remarked.
The match against Curacao will also mark newly-appointed India head coach Igor Stimac's first match in charge of the Blue Tigers. With a new beginning on the horizon, Chhetri expressed his excitement on being a part of the transition and had some warm words for the new gaffer.
"The players have been really happy is about the coach’s tactical, and technical knowledge where we understand things, and improve ourselves. Stimac’s man management has been exceptional as he talks to everyone. He is open minded. Players can go and talk to him anytime. It also helps as he was a player. So a lot many times when he talks to you, you get to understand that he too understands what a player goes through, and his needs. It’s all synchronised," the forward revealed.