Hard-work, consistency, dedication – these are all the regular ingredients that make people successful. One other very important quality is humility, which adds so much character to that success. Sunil Chhetri, the Indian Football captain, has this in abundance.
As I sit down to write this piece, India has won the Intercontinental Cup, and Sunil Chhetri now has 64 goals to his credit in international football – tied with none other than Lionel Messi.
He’s also the lone Indian in the list of Top 50 international goal scorers. In a parallel universe, this man would be celebrated as God.
In this exclusive interview with The Better India, we see the man behind the statistics and stardom. Chhetri speaks about his childhood, the evolution of football in his life, his family, his vision for the sport, and conveys a message for every sportsperson in this country.
Growing up years
Chhetri’s father served in the Indian Army, and because of that, he got to live in various parts of the country. “From standard 6th until 12th, I was in Delhi, and before that, I spent some years in Calcutta and Sikkim, in Secunderabad where I was born, and a short while in Jammu as well,” he says.
Having moved around so much, I asked him about the one good thing that came out of it. He says, “Looking back now, I can say that it gave me tremendous exposure.”
“The best kind of education comes with travelling and seeing places.”
He also spoke of how each transfer also brought with it tears and sadness. “Each time we had to pack our bags and move, it was that much more difficult. It meant leaving behind everything and everyone that we had become close to. But it taught me so much,” he shares.
A solid foundation – his parents
“I am what I am because of the manner in which they brought me up. I am blessed; my parents were very supportive of all the choices I made.”
“Never did I have the pressure of having to do something that didn’t have my heart,” he says.
The only two things that his parents were extremely particular about were discipline and respect for elders.
Message to parents
“Let your children be,” he says. Chhetri emphasises the need to maintain an open communication channel with children. He also urges parents to indulge their ‘frivolous’ fantasies, for that might become something meaningful in future.
“One of the main reasons I am where I am is because of the unconditional support that I got from my parents,” he says.
He feels that playing a sport doesn’t stop at that. He feels that the sport is connected to pretty much everything else that one does, making the player sharper, focused, and capable of taking on losses as well as victories.
Football for fun and football as a profession
For Chhetri, football was always a part of his life. “I never had to try to play the game. It just came to me. I never thought or even had an aspiration to play the sport professionally. As a child, I used to play various other sports as well, but football was always special,” he shares.
After completing class 12, he remembers receiving a call from Mohun Bagan. Until then, he hadn’t joined a formal academy or even thought that Mohun Bagan would pick him.
Even when he went to meet the team, he had no idea that he was called for induction into the team. He had assumed that they were calling to train him. “Only when they presented me with a contract, did it hit me,” he says.
Journey with football
“The journey has been adventurous and a complete honour. After I finished my class 12, even if I were given a chance to ask for anything, I wouldn’t have known to ask for what I have today,” he says.
Incidentally, football also gave this superstar his life partner.
Sonam Bhattacharya, the daughter of Subrata Bhattacharya, who had made Mohun Bagan proud in his heydays.
Chhetri’s fanboy moment
“I remember when I met Mary Kom for the first time I was completely taken in. For all that she had achieved, she was so down-to-earth and filled with humility and grace. It was an absolute pleasure to meet her and spend time with her,” he recalls.
The video that changed everything
Despite having a great game, Chhetri was disappointed at seeing a rather small turn out at a stadium which can seat 10,000 spectators. On the other hand, there were travelling fans who despite having limited resources were coming out to support the team.
He says, “It wasn’t a thought-out strategy at all. I was getting a massage and all through that, the low turnout was playing on my mind. I did not even run the video through my PR team; it was a decision that I completely believed in. Thankfully it turned out to be positive.”
He leaves us with a vital message – give whatever you are doing your 100 percent, and once you have done that, let go and relax.
Here’s wishing this dynamic Indian football captain much more success!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)
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