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Sunil Chhetri gets a tribute on his 100th international appearance; but had to plead for it.

Sunil Chhetri gets a tribute on his 100th international appearance; but had to plead for it.

Punit Tripathi

Published: 5 Jun 2018 4:52 AM GMT
39th minute into the first game, Jeje Lalpekhlua lobs a ball over the Chinese Taipei defence. India was leading 2-0, and yet, a man was relentless in his running. Standing at just 5 ft 7 in, Chhetri found space and brought the ball down. The man tried to beat the goalkeeper, but the custodian made a save. He smiled. That’s the class of a man, who is never seen smiling on a pitch, because he lives by the message of discipline that’s imbibed in him since his early days.

The Plea

https://twitter.com/chetrisunil11/status/1002892448513679361 After trouncing Chinese Taipei 5-0, Sunil Chhetri posted a heart-wrecking video on Twitter. The man who’s been carrying the burden of Indian football for years now called out to the nation to support the side. Chhetri even went on to say, "abuse us, criticise us but please come to watch the Indian national team play." “Come to the stadium, do it on our face, scream at us, shout at us, abuse us, who knows one day we might change you guys, you might start cheering for us. You guys have no idea how important you guys are and how important your support is," is the words of the captain himself. Cricketers Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar have supported the move, and it had its effect on the crowd.
Retrospectively, why has the situation come down to this? Chhetri was born in an Indian Army family, and has always been the embodiment of discipline. His father, K. B. Chhetri, was a football player for the Indian Army while his mother and twin sisters played for the Nepal Women’s National team. If there was one man who was destined to take up the sport, it was Chhetri. A young boy, Chhetri was an introvert at school, and was vibrant only when he was on the pitch. When in action, Chhetri always wanted his feet to do the talking. The transition to becoming professional was always destined to happen, as Chhetri was already making it big at several tournaments at the youth level.
Ever since he made his debut on the big league at Mohun Bagan in 2002, he’s not looked back. The Indian captain has been on a mission, and that can be defined in two words -- GET BETTER. The 33-year-old is a trendsetter in terms of training standards in Indian football, evident from how he matched pacy Udanta Singh’s run against Myanmar to slot the ball home and win the game for India 1-0.

The perfect perpetrator

Chhetri had previously said in a briefing that footballers, moresoever in India, need to train rigorously, to ensure their muscle memory helps them to do things right. If practice what you preach needs to find a perfect perpetrator, Chhetri isn’t far behind on the list. The man, who received discipline in his genes, understood that there’s no substitute to hard work at an early age, and that has helped him immensely in his craft.
Training at Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon, Chhetri free-kicked with Eric Dier, a player who’s an integral part of England and Tottenham Hotspur. He’s also the only Indian footballer to have featured against English club Manchester United. If there's a man who deserve these accolades, it’s Chhetri. Yesterday, after the captain, the leader posted his message on social media, the Andheri Sports Complex was sold out. Nearly 9000 people rallied up behind the Indian football team despite the heavy rain that chose to be the damper on the first half of the game. The result was good but, in this case, does the end really justify the means? Sunil Chhetri's spontaneous and heartfelt plea struck a chord and got Mumbaikars to the stadium but should he have needed to?
The All India Football Federation must be held responsible for this. In the plea, Chhetri suggests that the audiences in Kerala (and some other parts of the country) are so much better, and that’s the kind of atmosphere he and the team would like to have. What, then, is the real issue?

Looking at the real issue behind the scene

Poor marketing?

The Hero-IMG owned Indian Super League showcased the world how it’s done right. The four-season old league has managed to bring fans to the stadiums, at least to most of them. Comparatively, the I-league, managed by the AIFF, has failed to match up to its competitor. The right intent, or maybe spending at the right places, is what’s amiss. Football, perpetually, has not seen a lot of public following since decades. Not a lot has been done to revive the situation, with and the depleting football culture and quality have played their parts. The relativity comes in unquestionably, and there’s more to the issue than what meets the eye.
India need to play better football, market the game to a more dynamic audience that has an affinity to the game. The more you get into the problem, the graver it becomes.
Stephen Constantine has constantly been questioned for playing unattractive football, with long balls and safety-first measures a property of the team’s gameplay. Grassroots programmes like Mission XI Million have not had desired impacts, and the Asian Football Confederation has itself suggested that Indian football needs to find a futuristic solution to its short-term arrangements. All of this needs to change, to bring about an attitude-shift.

Change must begin with you

The problem is at the base as well. The Indian society sees, dreams and feels motivated only by cricket, preponderant across the nation. The scene is changing, with alternative sports gradually getting better. India’s global dominance in kabaddi, wrestling, and badminton among others has helped its marketing, but football is not helped by any such leaps.

The game, thus, needs to get better. The system needs to get better.

The target needs to get better, and the country needs to accept and take proactive measures to bring wholesome changes. For starters, go to stadiums, cheer or boo the side, but continue going to the stadiums. India was recently on a 13-match unbeaten run, and there shouldn’t be much to complain in the future as well, if they ride on a winning streak again to the AFC Asian Cup 2019. The scene needs to change, and it begins with you. https://twitter.com/chetrisunil11/status/1003694651285442561
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