At the same time, he has kept himself updated with all the news regarding the pandemic and also came out in support of people from the north-east who were subjected to racial discrimination during the lockdown. In a chat with TOI, the 35-year-old spoke about how football might change in a post-Covid world, the transition of Indian football team and much more…
What about football? Would we see a few changes to the sport in a post-Covid world?
Football is the last thing on my mind at the moment. No one can really tell how things are going to pan out. A lot will change for everybody and that includes football. We will see games without fans and that isn’t something we are used to. The players will be continuously monitored and checked. We also need to keep a tab on the support staff and the groundsmen both at the stadiums and training grounds. No one can really tell how things are going to pan out.
Can football be resumed in India without fans?
No one wants to play in front of an empty stadium. But these are unprecedented times. With football being a team sport and involving around 40 guys in a squad, it will be even more difficult to start the game in our country. We don’t even know when the government will allow us to train. Until the vaccines come out, we have to be extremely careful. If one player contracts the virus, then the entire league will get jeopardised and we can’t risk that.
The AIFF’s technical committee has recommended 3+1 foreign players in a team from next season. Do you support the idea?
The ISL has seen some really good foreigners plying their trade here but then every club eventually needs to follow AFC‘s blue print, which is to have a 3+1 structure. But it has to be implemented in the right way. You can’t suddenly ask a club to reduce their foreigners when they have already signed six foreign players.
Will there be a risk of injury to footballers when they return?
Training at home and on the pitch are two different things with the ground reaction force coming into play big time when you are on the field. But I feel almost every professional footballer has access to expert opinion in strength and conditioning coaches. So it’s best to work according to a little plan. These are unprecedented times and we may still have to improvise a little.
Does staying away from the game affect you mentally?
The fuel of sportspersons is their passion towards the game. They run on adrenaline and in times like these when you are locked inside, it can play on your mind. That’s why I have been saying that while you need to get your dose of physical activity or exercise every day, it’s equally important to pay attention to mental health too. The pandemic is a test in so many ways, and we’re going to have to take care of ourselves, both physically and mentally.
You have openly spoken about the discrimination against northeast Indians during the lockdown. Does it hurt to see such racial attacks?
The ignorance is appalling. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you are from – to be discriminated purely on the way you look shouldn’t be acceptable in any country in the world. It is disappointing, but we have a duty to keep educating people to be better.
Bengaluru failed to win a trophy for the first time since its inception last season. It also means that you have gone trophy-less in club football after seven seasons…
The fact that an exit in ISL semifinals is deemed as a failure for Bengaluru tells you of the kind of standards the club has set. But we’re a club that’s honest enough to admit we weren’t up to the mark last season. Probably we lacked the killer instinct and we couldn’t seize the key moments but we’ve been our harshest critics in success and that doesn’t change in defeat. We know where we faltered and we have to use this disappointment to come back stronger next season.
Similarly, the national team have had a few frustrating results even though you have played impressive football against the top Asian teams in recent times…
There is a new wave of youngsters who are fearless and back their talent. This is why we’ve managed to churn out some impressive, if not successful performances. But there is still so much room to improve and we need to keep our eyes on the bigger picture.
But we are yet to find the next Sunil Chhetri…
The transitional phase which Indian football was going through after the retirement of players like (Bhaichung) Bhutia, Renedy (Singh), (Mahesh) Gawli is over. Players like (Sandesh) Jhingan, Udanta (Singh), (Anirudh) Thapa and Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu) have built a strong core. There is a lot of self-confidence in the boys now. It’s a process and we are working hard to build something new.
You are 35. Did you introspect and revise your targets during this lockdown?
I don’t set targets, so nothing’s really changed. What I want now is for this phase to pass as soon as possible and for us to come out of it as better human beings. Everything else is a bonus.