In The Stands, ft. Sunil Chhetri, Part Two: A backbencher and friend off the field
Since making his debut in 2005 for the Indian national team, Sunil Chhetri has formed close bonds with many players, including Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Chhetri, Jhingan, and Sandhu have been teammates since 2015 when Jhingan received his first national call-up. Their friendship is pure and well-known, and they even played together for Bengaluru FC in the Hero Indian Super League last season.
Since making his debut in 2005 for the Indian national team, Sunil Chhetri has formed close bonds with many players, including Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Chhetri, Jhingan, and Sandhu have been teammates since 2015 when Jhingan received his first national call-up. Their friendship is pure and well-known, and the trio even played together for Bengaluru FC in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) last season.
Chhetri's relationship with Sandhu dates back to 2011 when Sandhu joined the senior national side for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. A recent video shared by Sandhu on his social media handle beautifully showcases their strong relationship.
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During the second part of his interview as part of the In The Stands show hosted by Suyash Upadhyaya, Chhetri emphasized the value of his friendship with Gurpreet and Jhingan, despite their significant age difference, and how it has grown over the years.
“Yeah, (we’re) pretty close (friends). They (Gurpreet and Sandesh) were young kids, just newcomers and now they're (my friends). So, I think I've earned their trust and they've earned my friendship,” Chhetri stated.
Speaking further on the two, the Indian captain highlighted their unwavering determination and refusal to give up, both on and off the pitch.
“We talk a lot about not only on-the-pitch things but off-the-pitch also. I'm a fan of both of them. They've (got) a very innate nature of not giving up which is really sweet and yeah, those two are probably the ones who I talk to the most and I open up the most,” he added.
The Sunil Chhetri we are familiar with is primarily known as a senior team member who provides guidance both on and off the field, whether it's for his club or country. However, there is another side of Chhetri that remains relatively unknown - the era when he himself was a young kid.
When discussing the lighter and funniest moments of his playing career, Chhetri shared anecdotes about him and his friends, who used to be the "Backbenchers," poking fun at the senior players. Now, despite his desire to relive those days, he can only reminisce about those past moments.
“I think a lot of those stories are from the era when I was a backbencher. It's so strange because I was .... I used to look down upon people who sat in front because I am a genuine backbencher inside my heart, right from my school days to when I came to the camp me and Steven (Dias), Mehraj (Wadoo), (NP) Pradeep, sometimes Samir (Naik) bhai will come, (Subrata) Paul sometimes will come but all this batch … our batch (Goura) Mangi (Singh) and all when we came. We were always in the back seat of the bus and we used to make so much fun of all the seniors, of course, not crossing the limit of respect.
“Now even the days when I want to …. which is seldom again, I don't go back. I'm always the one that I used to make fun of I'm right at the start, sitting in the front, (putting on my) headphones, and I'm in my own world and Bhaichung (Bhutia) Da used to tell me that “You call me 'Old, Old, Old!' this and that but when I'm gone you will understand and you will miss me. And I messaged him a few months back that I realise (now) what you're trying to tell me (before),” he further mentioned.
Continuing with this, the 38-year-old, who has been a part of the national team for almost 18 years now, reminisced about occasions when senior players grew tired of their antics and pranks. He shared insights into his life both before and after assuming the role of captain for the national team.
“Before I become the captain, before all these responsibilities came to me, I was worst the man … I think me and Steven were the pranksters. I think Mahesh (Gawli) Bhai and Climax (Lawrence) were fed up with us pulling their legs. Renedy (Singh) Bhai and Bhaichung Bhai had given up on us. We're constantly troubling them,” he added further.
The Indian skipper has consistently worn the No. 11 shirt since his early playing career with Mohun Bagan, becoming easily recognisable as #SC11. Fans even adorned the Sree Kanteerava Stadium with banners proclaiming him the 'Immortal No. 11'. Chhetri also revealed his alternative favourite jersey number when asked about it.
“I wore 10 at the start. I started wearing 11 when I was in Mohun Bagan because that was the only number available at the moment and then I stuck to it. I used to wear 10 when I was in Delhi playing for school or playing for the City Club. I wore 10,” he said.
The past month has been incredibly demanding for Chhetri as he devoted himself to representing his nation in the Hero Intercontinental Cup, followed by the SAFF Championship in Bengaluru. Amidst his busy schedule, Chhetri shared insights into his off-time rituals and routines, and how he manages to balance his commitments and find moments of personal relaxation.
He said: “Nowadays, I read a lot. Again a lot of youngsters call me old for this, but it's amazing yeah it's amazing to gather as much knowledge as possible is amazing. It just makes you sharper and I've realised the power of it, Now as when I was younger I didn't but I read a lot and I enjoy it. I sleep a lot whenever I get time, I chat a lot, and yeah I love driving sometimes. (It is a) stress buster.”
“I'm reading something on philosophy and at the same time, I was given a book on leadership. It's a nice book. I always try to juggle between two books, one is going to be a little bit heavy and one will be lighter.”
Watch the second part of In the Stands with Chhetri below: