Sunil Chhetri: Rising fan support has been one of the USP’s of the season

Bengaluru FC made a mark in everything they did in their debut Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season, ensuring that the passionate fanbase rejoiced their intelligent gameplay coupled with brilliant performances. Led by none other than the captain of the Indian national team Sunil Chhetri, who put up a heroic display throughout the season to marshall the Blues forward into their first Final, Bengaluru has been touted by many to be the best team in the Hero ISL 2017-18 season.

However, their record-breaking journey did not have a fairytale ending as they succumbed to a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Chennaiyin FC in the Final, to miss out on their claim to the coveted trophy. When caught up with Chhetri in an exclusive interview recently, he still had not gone over the bitter loss. “Still gutted to be very honest! We worked really hard to reach the final and to lose the way we did, still really gutted all of us. I was talking to a few of the boys and all of them are still feeling what we felt after the game. We were really sad but one thing football teaches you is just to move on and that’s what we’re going to do. I think we are hungrier now, so a mini-break for all of us now and then we get back together, train hard and get ready for the Hero Super Cup,” he shared.

Another figure whose hard work and sharp mind led to Bengaluru’s dominance throughout was their head coach, Albert Roca. When asked what the Spaniard’s take was after the defeat in the Final, Chhetri replied, “What can a coach say when you lose a final? But he was really happy and he was very proud of the way the boys fought till the last game. He did mention that after everything settles down, we’re going to watch the videos and see where we can learn and where we can improve, but altogether he was happy with the way the whole team played. He congratulated everyone right from the players, the coaching staff, the ball boys, everyone involved in doing what we did throughout the season. So I think, apart from the fact that we lost the finals, he is a happy man.”

Losing out on bagging the trophy nonetheless takes no shine off Bengaluru’s resplendent display all season long. Their impact on the league and Indian football, in general, has been a highlight this season and speaking on the same topic, Bengaluru’s skipper inferred, “(We are) a team that doesn’t give up, a team which is very difficult to play against and when I say a team, it is not only the players but the whole team right from Mr Jindal (CEO of Bengaluru FC) to our ball boys, including the fans, everyone. We take a lot of pride in the way we play or the way we are and we make sure that we are a tough team to play against. So that is something that I am really proud of and I think the credit goes to everyone who is attached to the team on and off the field. We’ve worked really hard and I just hope that we keep doing it. Let’s make sure that we keep improving ourselves.”

The 33-year-old further went on to add, “The high (of the season) is definitely the way we played, dominated the league. I think to get 40 points in the league was something that has never happened before. Throughout the season I think we were solid and very dominant. The attacking side, the midfield, the defence, our wall Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the whole team and the way we gelled, everyone was in sync and that was the high. If you ask me the low then it would be losing the final. That is something that is going to take time to sink in.”

With three teams representing the southern states of India this season, the derby scenario and the passion amidst the fans have seen a completely new level this season. When asked how he evaluates the rising fan culture in the country and the effect it is creating on the overall promotion of football, Chettri admitted, “It’s outstanding! The way the whole fanbase, not only ours, but I think everyone from Kerala Blasters FC, Chennaiyin FC, FC Goa, FC Pune City, NorthEast United FC supported their team not only at their home ground but also travelled, that I think was one of the main USP’s or the best thing about Hero ISL this season. There were so many travelling fans. I remember we played Kerala (Blasters) at Sree Kanteerava (Stadium) and just before the game we went to have a look at the ground and it was half yellow. Our Kanteerava Stadium was half yellow and it just tells you how football has evolved in our country. So many fans are ready to travel and support their team. I think that was outstanding. I just hope that from here it just builds on.

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