Playing in ISL has given exposure and confidence to Indian football team, says captain Sunil Chhetri

Indian captain Sunil Chhetri stated the biggest impact the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) has had on the national team has been the exposure to a higher level and confidence to younger players. Chhetri, who guided the Blue Tigers to the final of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship 2021 on Wednesday with a brace during India's 3-1 win over Maldives, said the performance from the youngsters was the biggest takeaway from the ongoing tournament. The Indian captain further said that the confidence was a result of the exposure in the Hero ISL. 

"(The ISL has given) a lot of exposure and confidence (to the Indian team)," Chhetri said during a virtual press conference on Thursday.

"When all the youngsters play in a tournament which is a level-up and train with foreigners, it gives them confidence. When (Mohammed) Yasir goes back, he will be training with (Bartholomew) Ogbeche, Edu Garcia and Juanan. These are top players. When the likes of (Akash) Mishra and Chinglensana (Singh) will train with these top guys, day in and day out, the rate in which they play will be better. That's what the ISL has done. You have to mark a Coro or Roy Krishna sometimes or fight for headers against Mourtada Fall. When you train under good coaching and with better players, it improves you and that's what I have seen. They are confident and understand the game more," Chhetri explained.

On Wednesday, Chhetri surpassed Pele's international record for goals and is currently placed sixth place in the list of leading goalscorers in international men's football. And while Chhetri continues being the main source of goals for the national team, the possibility of his successor has been a hot topic of discussion. When asked about the same, Chhetri pointed out a few promising youngsters from the Hero ISL who could step into his shoes in the future.

"Manvir is one, I'm really hoping he continues scoring goals," he said. "Rahim Ali is (another) one, you haven't seen much as a No. 9 because he plays on the wing (for Chennaiyin). The lad is really strong and talented. If you are talking about goals, then I would put my money on Anirudh Thapa. He is a brilliant player to have and someone who has everything, with a knack for scoring. Liston gives me a lot of hope. He (too) has a knack for scoring and I can tell you this from what I've seen in training.  He hasn't delivered yet in games but he's young and the goals will come. Rahul KP from Kerala (Blasters) has a huge potential and is someone who is hungry for goals and is always there. They (goalscorers) will come."

Currently, in the active list of international goalscorers, Chhetri (79) is just behind Cristiano Ronaldo (115) and Lionel Messi (80) and a goal in the SAFF Championship final would put him level with Messi. But Chhetri brushed aside comparisons to them, saying he was happy as long as he was scoring goals for his country.

"I tell myself, everything is going to end very soon, which is why I keep myself away from all the noise, be it criticism or praise, I forget it," he said. "I go there and try to put in a shift. Because I know, it's gonna end soon. And I don't want to leave any stone unturned or have any regrets. I want to give everything now."

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