Bhutia in awe of Chhetri

Bhutia in awe of Chhetri

INSPIRATION Bhaichung Bhutia with aspiring young players during a promotional event on Sunday. DH PHOTO/ BK JANARDHAN

A heartfelt appeal from Sunil Chhetri went viral on Saturday as the skipper of the Indian team appealed to fans to come out and support his side.

The earnest message from Chhetri has garnered support from sportsmen and enthusiasts alike with the likes of Virat Kohli offering his support.

A man who has first-hand experience of being in such situations is former Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia. Known for his dazzling yet ruthless displays on the pitch, Bhutia, soft-spoken and affable off the grass, quipped: “I’ve been one of the people who didn’t go so I’m going tomorrow (laughs).”

“The football scene has got better over the years. In places like the North-East, Bengal, Goa and Kerala you have people going and watching the games and following their teams in huge numbers but it needs to happen in the big cities like New Delhi and Mumbai as well. We are doing our bit in promoting local players. At the same time, we also need the fans to come out and support us,” said Bhutia on the sidelines of a Baichung Bhutia Football Schools event at Active Arena in Marathahalli on Sunday.

Veteran Chhetri continued to enthrall with a well-taken hat-trick against Chinese Taipei at the Intercontinental Cup on Thursday. As remarkable as the feat was, it also meant that the 33-year-old was joint-third in the list of active international goalscorers, with only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi ahead of him.

“It is a great achievement. Definitely not easy to do what he has done. It’s all down to his perseverance and hard work. I’ve seen him a long time now. He’s been really focused as a player and that is good,” the 41-year-old Bhutia lauded.

Another Indian great IM Vijayan had once called Bhutia ‘god’s gift to Indian football’, so what does Bhutia call Chhetri, who is definitely in the upper echelons of Indian football?

“I wish I was as poetic as Vijayan but I’m not. But seriously, he’s been outstanding. After I stepped down as captain with a certain legacy, I was impressed to see Sunil taking over from where I left off and doing a much better job. That makes me feel really proud.”

As a preparation for the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates next year, India have embarked on their first real warm-up with the on-going Intercontinental Cup. But Bhutia believes more should be done in order to be truly prepared for the event. 

“It’s a really good tournament to practice. But if we have to prepare more seriously for the Asian Cup, we need to play outside the country. There are many options like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand or UAE,” he signed off.