MUMBAI: As practice was winding down to a close, under the hot blazing midday sun, Sunil Chhetri walked to the spot to practice penalties. With Amrinder Singh in goal, repeated shots were fired to the right. When he had hit the back of the net thrice on the trot, a few expletives were uttered.
On Wednesday, the skipper had missed a penalty, Aizawl FC keeper Albino Gomes parrying a shot, diving to his right. Bengaluru had to settle for a 1-1 draw. Earlier that evening, Chhetri had become the highest Indian scorer in the top division – National Football League and I-League combined.
He arrived in Mumbai, for the match against Mumbai FC on Saturday, with the penalty miss haunting him rather than revelling in the record-breaking strike.
“That’s football. You are hero one moment, villain the next,” says the 32-year-old. “Records don’t matter much actually. The goal that I scored, the 90th one, after that I missed a penalty for which my team dropped two points. That bothers me.
Whatever you’ve done years before doesn’t hold any importance. You’re as good as your last game. After I scored the goal, there was no celebration. We were all sad because we haven’t won in five games. That’s very unusual for a team like ours. Defeats hurt.”
The diminutive Chhetri has been one of the most consistent Indian players in the domestic league. And though he has been a benchmark for this generation of Indian strikers, he’s, statistics wise, a long leap away from being one of the best in the league.
Nigeria’s Ranti Martins is the highest scorer with 214 goals while Odafa Okolie has scored 179. “The gap is huge,” says Chhetri. “The worst part is, apart from me, Baichung earlier and Jeje now, you don’t see anyone (striker) playing day in day out.
All clubs earlier used to play with two foreign strikers. They do that now also, so it becomes difficult. I’m all for competition, but when you see the pitch, there isn’t a (Indian) striker that plays day in day out. All Indian strikers should think about it and score more goals.”
Even though Chhetri is keen that his record doesn’t hold for long, he wants to push the mark past 100.