New season, fresh hope: Ageless Chhetri upbeat ahead of Durand Cup test

With the arrival of experienced English coach Simon Grayson & some noteworthy signings, BFC skipper hopeful of strong run this season

Published: 14th August 2022 11:53 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th August 2022 11:53 PM   |  A+A-

Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri. (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

Sunil Chhetri has been carrying the torch of Indian football for a long time now. And his love affair with the sport, which has yielded countless magical moments, remains undiminished. For someone who sets the bar high, Chhetri is as hungry as ever at 38. As another national football season comes into view, the Bengaluru FC (BFC) skipper is embracing the challenges in store.

Chhetri and the rest of the squad members had been training in Bellary since late last month as part of pre-season ahead of the Durand Cup (season-opener), scheduled to begin from August 16. After bossing the first couple of seasons (2017-18, 2018-19) in the Indian Super League (ISL), Bengaluru have been underwhelming in the last two seasons. And Chhetri & Co. are determined to change that narrative under new coach Simon Grayson, former English footballer who has an abundance of experience at the top level of management.

The absence of playing in familiar conditions in front of loyal fans could have also affected their output. The last two seasons of the ISL was conducted in Goa due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On Sunday, the BFC players, who have a good mix of youth and experience this time, had their first open training session at the Bangalore Football Stadium (BFS) and understandably, the players were stoked about it. "It was outstanding, just the feeling of playing with your fans is something that we had forgotten. It was a pleasant reminder, it was amazing. BFS brings back very fond memories. Fans coming after two years... some familiar faces, some new ones. What was common was the love and the noise," Chhetri said during a virtual media interaction organised by BFC, who announced the signature of experienced defender Sandesh Jhingan on Sunday.

On a personal level, Chhetri knows that age is not on his side. Last season, Chhetri had been forced to start from the bench on a few occasions and had finished with just four goals. But a good showing with the national team during the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers has injected that much-needed kick and he's determined to do what it takes, in terms of fitness, to make a positive impact.

"For the last four, five years, whatever changes I brought in my diet and the amount of water I drink has been very rigid and monotonous. That's probably because I have found a sweet spot. I don't take chances... I know I'm not young anymore and I don't have the liberty of taking chances and I have also realised that the way you eat is the way you perform, the way you think and the way you behave," he said.

That undeviating mantra is something that has seen him collect trophies for fun over the years. But something that is missing is the Durand Cup, which is one of the oldest club football tournaments in the world. Bengaluru begin their campaign on August 17 against Jamshedpur at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata."Durand Cup is an important tournament for the club and most important to me because in my 20 years of playing, I haven't won it. It is an added motivation for me," he said.

Having an experienced operator in Simon as coach could help realise his and team's goal. Chhetri is impressed with the methods of the Englishman so far. "One thing that stands out is he is very calm and encouraging to all, especially the youngsters. He has been very patient and he's clear about what he wants."

Another signing that has generated buzz is Fijian striker Roy Krishna, who has built a reputation for himself with his ability to score goals for fun. Chhetri's potential partnership with Roy could be a game-changer, something that fans are anticipating. But Chettri is not living on that hype-train and is just happy to share the dressing room with Roy.

"I think it's overhyped. It's not the pairing, it's just Roy. We are just happy with Roy. We just need to make sure he's happy. We know what he can give, he's been outstanding in training. We all know how good he is on the pitch, but even off the pitch, he is trying his best to be part of the team. He's going and talking to all the youngsters, he's very chirpy. With so much experience, he does not shy away from voicing his opinion and ensuring that everyone is happy around. He has troubled us a lot in the last couple of years, so to have him wearing our jersey is a pleasant feeling."

Twenty teams, divided into four groups of five sides each, will be part of the Durand Cup which begins on Tuesday. Defending champions FC Goa will take on Mohammedan Sporting Club in the opening match. The matches will be held in five venues across three states.


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