Everyone’s busy changing their Facebook profile pictures with the filters of the country they’re supporting this FIFA World Cup. A few others are coming together to organise screenings to watch games, and then there are football fanatics, who are going all out crazy, painting their homes, decking up their walls in support of their favourite teams this World Cup.
But wait a minute! Isn’t India a cricket loving country? That’s what everyone assumes. The vast number of football fans in India have definitely broken this so-called ‘myth’, and all thanks to love and attention football and other sports have received over the recent years.
For starters, we successfully hosted our first ever FIFA event – the Under-17 World Cup, last year and even set a record for attendance.
In 1950, the Indian team qualified for the FIFA World Cup, but why didn’t they make it? Let’s save that for a different story. But the fact is, India was never really far behind when it came to football.
The last few years have seen the fan following really boom in India, with I-League and ISL. This wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for some of the talented players we’ve seen on the pitch.
One such player is our very own Captain Fantastic - Sunil Chhetri.
Chhetri Chhetri Chhetri….the chants reverberate throughout the stadium every time he walks onto the football pitch. Chhetri recently achieved a great feat in terms of any Indian footballer’s career. He went on to become the nation’s all-time leading goal scorer, netting 64 international goals, equalling Argentina’s Lionel Messi’s total goals scored for his country.
When we ask Chhetri what it feels like having equalled Messi's tally, and what this means for Indian football, he says, “I don’t take this comparison too seriously, no one should. There is no comparison. He is in a different league altogether. I’m just happy and proud that I could score 64 goals. Each goal is special, and even more so when they’re scored for India. But again, let’s not lose sight of the fact that football is a team sport – each goal is a credit to the whole team, not just the guy who gets the final touch.”
Having made his entry to the Indian football team back in 2005, Chhetri has made 100 appearances for the national team, the second player after former captain’s Bhaichung Bhutia, whose record stands at 104.
Will Chhetri beat that as well? With his perseverance and ability to continuously improve, there’s no stopping this man. And this clearly is a strong mark of his leadership traits - to set an example, live by it and walk the talk. Above all, what a way to inspire his teammates and the fans who throng the stands to watch him play.
But how does Chhetri keep himself motivated to keep pushing the boundaries, and motivate his fellow blues to bring their A game on?
The same is true for my teammates – each and everyone knows they’re privileged to be representing their nation. Their “A game” follows naturally,” he says.
Clearly, one has a lot to learn from his leadership skills, especially when he has single-handedly carried the whole team forward. Watch him play, and you’ll know why!
As a leader, a player, and brand ambassador for StarPick, an online fantasy sports platform, how does Chhetri continuously improve and propel further, we ask.
“You must be motivated. You must strive to improve every day, inch by inch. Practice and repetition is very important. There’s a well-known quote - “It takes years to become an overnight success.”
Hard-work is the most important factor. Also, for me personally, fitness is extremely important. You must eat, sleep, and train with great care and focus," he replies.
Wearing the captain arm band, he carries the responsibility of the team, be it the Indian National Team, or Bengaluru Football Club.
He carries the dreams of many, the dream that one day our country will rise above the ranks as a footballing nation.
One of the famous banners painted by the Bengaluru FC fans themselves, has a very strong message to convey -
…Oh When the Blues…Go marching in…I want to be in that number…’
Let’s come together and roar with the Blue Tigers!