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Given population, we should have 11 home-grown players : Chhetri


Mumbai : In an ideal world, Sunil Chhetri would have wanted to avoid the prospect of inviting Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) to the national team, yet he maintains that it is the need of the hour that led to head coach Stephen Constantine’s clarion call. The Indian skipper, nonetheless, asserts that significant efforts should be made to find talented players within the country before going abroad. “For countries with a small population like Guam, it makes sense to ask foreign residents to play. But here we have such a large population. We should be able to get 11 strong players. It’s all about finding them soon and then getting them to undergo high level training,” he says. The example the 30-year-old mentions is his Bengaluru FC teammate Eugeneson Lyngdoh, whose impressive display for the club earned him his first national cap at the age of 28. “Finding him at that age is too late. We should have had him in the national camp set-up much earlier to get him to develop much sooner. 

That way he would have been an experienced player in the squad right now instead of being a newcomer,” he mentions. Yet, while the striker has called for a stronger search for potential talent within the country, he is open to the idea of welcoming a PIO as a teammate, but only if the candidate is good enough to immediately slot in the starting 11 of the national team. Options for attacking roles will top the priority list from PIOs, should the necessary permissions be put in place.That consideration itself is what may provide relief to India’s shortage of strikers. Since Chhetri’s emergence in the national team in 2005, to former captain Baichung Bhutia’s retirement in 2011, the pair dominated the Indian strike force. However, Chhetri now stands alone as the sole-effective representative in the forward line. Yet he claims that it’s only a matter of time before his teammates step up. “I was lucky because when I got into the team, it was a senior group with established players like Baichung, Mahesh Gawli, Renedy and Deepak Mondal among others. 

But here it’s a junior bunch in a transitional phase, so they will need some time,” he asserts. Another concern in the strikers department is I-League clubs’ tendency to purchase foreign players to take up the goal-scoring responsibilities rather than rely on homegrown products. The only way for domestic prospects to cope with the international transfers then is to simply be better than their foreign counterparts. “Coaches only play the best player in each position. So you have to up your game to get there,” Chhetri adds. The shortage of strikers, however, wasn’t the only reason for the unexpected away defeat to lowly Guam in the World Cup qualifiers. Head coach Stephen Constantine had fielded a fairly inexperienced side to face the no. 174 ranked Pacific outfit. Chhetri though quells all excuses. “We lost because we simply didn’t play to our potential. We lost against Oman too, but people still cheered for us because they knew we gave it our all. Against Guam, we didn’t play well. No matter what anyone says, whatever reasons one gives, be it traveling 14 hours or whatever else. We just didn’t play well,” he laments. Incidentally, it was the shock defeat that compelled the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to approach the sports ministry to alter its firm stand on the eligibility of Indian-origin players for the national team. 

- Indian Express

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