Not just goals, Sunil Chhetri's leadership on the pitch is special: Igor Stimac

Head coach Igor Stimac praised captain Sunil Chhetri's influence on the Indian football team, terming his leadership as ‘special’. Chhetri was on target as the Blue Tigers beat Nepal 3-0 in the final to lift their 8th South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) title in October. Chhetri, was not only the top goalscorer of the tournament with f ive goals but the Indian talisman also scooped the Man of the Match award in the final besides being adjudged the Man of the Tournament.

"It’s not just the goals he scores, but it’s his leadership on the pitch that is special," Stimac said in an interview with  AIFF.

"He is a role model, and he is the most passionate one in the dressing room. At this age, that’s quite unbelievable. His fitness is unbelievable and we wait for someone to step forward together with a better fitness condition, and with a better scoring ability to replace him."

Chhetri, even at 37, continues to be the main source of goals and the most consistent player for the Blue Tigers under Stimac. There has been talk surrounding Chhetri's future despite his brilliant performances but the head coach revealed that the Indian captain’s age was never a worrying factor for him.

"I look at him (Chhetri) as the best player, I never look at the age of players," Stimac stressed.

"If I was looking at the age of players, I would never put an 18-year old to play for the National Team. Age is not important for me, it’s just what they do on the pitch is important for me."

Stimac also lauded Manvir Singh's talent, describing him as a great partner to play alongside Chhetri upfront. The Croatian chose Rahim Ali as another option who could accompany Chhetri in attack but said the youngster still needed to develop his game.

"Sunil needs someone who can take the pressure off him," Stimac mentioned. "He is still at his peak and was the only player to have played almost every minute in the SAFF Championship. Other than Manvir, we do have others too. Rahim Ali showed in the recent games that we can count on him in the future. He's a great boy with great energy and speed. He’s got strength and he can handle the pressure very well. He's also got power in his legs. But we need to use these boys in the (Hero Indian Super) League also in their natural positions, otherwise their game will not progress.”

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