It’s not only you, it’s the team now: Chhetri discusses taking up Indian team captaincy
Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri reflected on his journey from being a junior player in the national team to leading the side and how he became more responsible after receiving the captain’s armband.
Chhetri made his international debut for India in 2005 at a tender age of 20, but it was in 2012 when he took over the captaincy of the senior national team under former India head coach Bob Hoghton during the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualification in Malaysia. He recalled what type of a character he was as a young player and how that all changed with captaincy.
“The day I was given the armband, it was in Malaysia by Bob Houghton, former head coach of the senior national team. There was an instant pressure because of what I was - a backbencher. Myself, Steven (Dias) and (NP) Pradeep made fun of the senior players, that was me. Everything was a prank and I was mischievous ,” Chhetri said on an episode of Let There Be Sports which was streamed on Disney Plus Hotstar.
“But when I wore the armband, for the initial three-four games I started sitting ahead. That was me taking the pressure that I have become captain now. It’s not these things, but doing the right stuff that you were doing before and being a little more thoughtful. It’s not only you, it’s the team now.”
Chhetri has broken many records during his time with the Indian national team over two decades, also recording the most number of goals for the Blue Tigers. The 38-year-old explained how he had to change his approach after taking charge as captain and spoke about setting an example.
“Before there was this mindset that I am Sunil Chhetri - my dribble, my pass, my crossing, my goal. I would raise my hands and go home. Even if I received abuse, I would take them and go home. But now you are thinking about yourself as well, but also about the team. On and off the pitch. And when I forced myself to think this way earlier, I was scared. I told myself to relax, the job is still the same. Be a good example on the pitch and off the pitch,” he explained.
“More importantly, when there is a mistake, raise your hand and apologise. Because when the responsibilities come and you become a senior player, it becomes more difficult to say it was my mistake. That was what I learned when I became a leader, that it's okay, you are going to make a mistake. All the big ones have made it. And when the captain gets up and takes the blame, the whole morale (of the dressing room) changes,” he further added.
Chhetri still continues to remain a vital player for both club Bengaluru FC and country, while being the face of Indian football. The veteran striker has won plenty of titles and accolades during his professional football career, but revealed that defeats taught him to stay grounded.
“It’s a blessing to be Sunil Chhetri, very honestly. But to take losses in life is something that sports teaches you and that’s what I take from football. Every now and then, even now, when I am who I am, a phase or a loss will come which will tell you that you are nothing,” he said.