Sunil Chhetri is hopeful that under coach Wim Koevermans the Indian football team will make a new beginning.
Talking to mediapersons following a goalless practice match between the National side and Pailan Arrows at the Jaypee Greens Integrated Sports Complex here on Saturday, Chhetri — who left his duty for Sporting Lisbon in Portugal midway to join the National camp ahead of the Nehru Cup — expressed faith in the new system.
The players were enjoying themselves while trying to come to grips with the new system. They were doing well and moving in the right direction, he said.
The ace striker appreciated the way Koevermans was trying to develop the team. “He has a long-term plan, a big plan. We have to look beyond the Nehru Cup. He also makes sure everyone understands a point,” he said.
Chhetri said due to the retirement of some experienced players, the new-look team would take some time to settle down.
“There are some very talented youngsters. But they have to perform as a team. Today, I see no old players. The young players have to grab their chances and the old players have to pass on their experience and knowledge.”
Assessing India’s chances in the Nehru Cup, the 28-year-old said teams like Cameroon and Syria might pose tough challenges to India’s attempt to defend the title. He expected Cameroon to field its under-22 side.
Talking about his brief experience with Sporting Lisbon, Chhetri said the main difference between Indian players and Europeans was the pace and intensity of the game. “There is no difference in skills. The pace, intensity and habits are different… It is more about tactics.”
Chhetri said he had gained good experience during his 28 days of training with Sporting Lisbon’s ‘B’ side, which would play 42 matches in the Portuguese league.
Chhetri, who is yet to play any match for the club, said he would miss three to four matches due to his Nehru Cup assignment.
He looked forward to his stint with the Portuguese club. “The coaching staff are kind and honest. They have told me where I stand. They believe in me, in my talent. What I have to do now is improve.
There are players from all over Europe in the squad and also from Africa. I am the eldest player. Other players are younger, but very professional. They keep me on my toes.”
Goalkeeper Subrata Pal, who recently trained with fourth division German club RB Leipzig for two weeks, counted on the positives of his exposure. “I saw the level of play. The intensity is very high. The pitches, weather and players are so different.”
According to Pal, the German club was not allowed to hire foreign players. “If they go to the play-off stage (a higher level) next year, then I will go there.”
On India’s chances in the Nehru Cup, Pal sounded very positive. “Nehru Cup has been a lucky tournament for us. I hope we win it again,” he said.