India's football captain Sunil Chhetri (front row, left) had been an inspirational figure for his younger teammates for several years now. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Kolkata: Sunil Chhetri, the talismanic Indian captain who has been in the news after overtaking Lionel Messi’s tally of 72 international goals on Monday night, said he owes the secret of his fitness to his predecessor Baichung Bhutia.

“Baichung-bhai (Baichung Bhutia) always told me that you have to try and be a good example, and that is what I try to do. Being punctual, eating well, taking care of my body - the boys can see it and it is not difficult to motivate them. Earlier, I used to feel like a warden at times but now, it’s a natural process in the team,” said the 36-year-old, who made his international debut against Pakistan in 2005. Chhetri’s work ethic has been a source of awe for his teammates - with head coach Igor Stimac saying on Tuesday it’s like a 25-year-old.


“I advise youngsters to think about what you can do and not think about what others are saying. I learnt this early in my life - if you are more focused and thinking about yourself, you won’t get time to worry about what others are saying and thinking,” he maintained ahead of India’s third and final Fifa World Cup qualifier in this leg against Afghanistan in Doha on Thursday.

In the ongoing Qualifiers for Qatar 2022 and 2023 Asian Cup, India are currently placed at six points from seven games, having lost out narrowly to Asian champions Qatar 1-0 despite going down early to 10 men, before beating neighbours Bangladesh 1-0.

Baichung Bhutia, Chhetri's predecessor as Indian captain, had been easily the biggest ambassador of the game from the country in the last decade. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Chhetri added that the team will continue to move forward together in their progression and mentioned that the whole team - players, coaches and technical staff are “in sync” with one another.

“Against Bangladesh, we were hurried at times in the final third and we will surely learn with more matches. For example, Manvir was a bit upset after missing one chance. I told him to relax and keep his head up, and that we all will miss chances.

“The boys are ready now - they are hungry, their GPS numbers are very good and they work very hard. The coaches and technical staff are in sync with the players and the next step is passing more, but it will not happen overnight,” he said.

Chhetri hailed the energy and tenacity displayed by the team in the Bangladesh game, comparing it to a swarm of bees. “I tell the boys and myself to just turn up and give everything on the pitch, and then you will take whatever result comes. You saw Glan (Martins) and Suresh (Singh Wangjam) in the last game, that’s the kind of energy you want in games. They did make mistakes but their energy, fighting spirit, talking and listening - that’s all you need.”