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‘There’s not much time left, get up and get going’ – Chhetri on what motivates him

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Indian men’s football team captain Sunil Chhetri is nothing short of a talisman for the side that is heavily reliant on the 37-year-old to drag it through difficult times.

For the better part of the last two decades, Chhetri has been doing it almost every game. The Bengaluru FC forward has scored in nine out of India’s last ten wins in all competitions and imagining where Indian football would be without the star striker is difficult.

But the captain eased those worries too.

“At least for a few more years, Sunil Chhetri is not going anywhere. Don’t worry,” the 37-year-old told reporters during an online interaction on Thursday.

SAFF Championship: Sunil Chhetri’s astonishing consistency masks Indian football’s many problems

On Wednesday, Chhetri became the joint sixth-highest goalscorer in international football with a brace in Maldives that took his tally at the SAFF Championship to four goals.

Speaking about his motivation to turn up and deliver game in game out, the Bengaluru FC player was quite straightforward.

“I have a very simple mantra, I tell myself ‘dost khade ho ja, bohot kam time bacha hai aur bohot kam games baaki hai, chup chaap khade ho ja.(get up, there’s very little time left and very few games left, so kindly get up)’” Chhetri said.

“I tell myself to stop crying, over rejoicing, or putting myself down because it’s a fact that this (my career) will end soon. Somedays I’ll score and somedays I won’t but right now I aim to give my best. Don’t want to leave any stone unturned or have regrets,” he added.

India would hope that their captain sticks around long enough to oversee the progress of youngsters who could possibly take his place.

Manvir Singh, the only other Indian player on the scoresheet at the SAFF Championship is obviously the leading candidate. Against Maldives, he set up Chhetri for his first goal having already opened the scoring for the team.

Chhetri feels the ATK Mohun Bagan forward has all the attributes to be a top striker but needs to adapt while transitioning from club to country.

“Manvir is the obvious one (to take over from me). He is very talented and is a beast. He kills it in every physical test in training. The fluctuation in his form is because he plays a slightly different role at ATK Mohun Bagan and a completely different role in the national team,” he said.

“It takes some time for him to adjust when he comes to play for India. He is still very young and he needs to learn how to adapt. When playing with a clear mind, he is a top player and we saw that against Maldives,” he added.

India have endured a tough SAFF Championship campaign so far. After draws with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the Blue Tigers needed to bounce back with wins against Nepal and Maldives to qualify for the final.

The Indian captain believes the team is slowly starting to gel as a unit after getting games under their belt. Speaking about the youngsters in the team, Chhetri said the tournament has been a good learning curve for them.

“The young players are on social media and they read almost everything that has been said of them. And that affects their morale. That was the problem in the first two games. But now the mood has changed. The players are more upbeat and are learning how to cope with difficulties,” he said.

India under coach Igor Stimac have only won five matches in 21 games, but Chhetri feels that the senior players must take responsibility for the results.

“The players must take the blame for recent results. We can’t compare our own two performances in this very tournament and that’s not acceptable. We need to be more consistent,” Chhetri said.

“We (senior players) discuss this and some of the chances that I’ve missed is not acceptable,” he added.

India face Nepal in the final on Saturday, a team that beat 1-0 in the group phase. Chhetri, though, is not taking things lightly.

“Nepal are the best team in this tournament in terms of attacking and defending as a team. They may not have any outstanding individuals but they are the best team in the competition and the final won’t be easy,” said Chhetri.

“The mood in the camp is better. To win a must-win game in hostile conditions against Maldives is satisfying. We are now trying to recover and hopefully win the trophy,” he added.

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