Indian men’s football team head coach Igor Stimac wants Sunil Chhetri to continue playing football for as long as possible and believes has the fitness levels to carry on. 

The Indian captain will turn 39 next month but the Croatian head coach believes there is no need to talk about his retirement. 

“The question is always, ‘Who after Chhetri?’ but I never thought that way,” Stimac said during an interview with the Indian Express.  

“I was doing everything to keep alive the hunger he has so that he stays with us as long as possible. Even when he went through difficulties in Bengaluru being sidelined the last couple of years, we did everything to make sure he doesn’t leave too soon,” he added. 

In the recently concluded SAFF Championship and Hero Intercontinental Cup that India won, Chhetri was one of India’s most used players and was seen running and chasing the opponents down. 

The Croatian believes that the skipper has one of the best fitness levels in the team and he would do everything in his capacity to push him to continue playing. 

“I would like him to play for the national team at least as long as I am here. From the day I joined, I have been hearing about his age. But what counts is his fitness, commitment, passion, hunger and leadership skills. He is the best player India has ever had and his record speaks for it,” Stimac told The Times of India in another interview. 

“He is, in fitness, one of the top three in all the tests we execute for the national team. With his body, the numbers are perfect – be it body fat percentage or weight. Why should we think about Chhetri retiring? I’m going to do everything in my power to help him play for another five years,” he told Indian Express highlighting Chhetri’s fitness levels. 

Stimac also played down that India are dependent on the 38-year-old and explained that they just try to make the most of his qualities. 

“We do not depend on Sunil Chhetri. He doesn’t bring the ball up the pitch or is part of midfield triangle drills,” the Croatian told Indian Express

“He is clearly a different class. With Sunil, we have a different approach. There are going to be times when he isn’t present,” he added. 

India will next be in action in September as they travel to Thailand for the King’s Cup. They will also take part in the Merdeka Cup in Malaysia before beginning their FIFA World Cup Qualification campaign later in the year.