Notwithstanding all the speculation that had gone before, Sunil Chhetri’s move to Bengaluru FC came as a bit of a surprise.
After a title victory with Churchill Brothers, where he had been on loan from the Sporting Clube de Portugal ‘B’ side, few would have expected Chhetri to sign for a newcomer.
The 28-year-old, though, was left impressed when JSW Sports, Bengaluru FC’s owner, approached him three months ago.
“They didn’t come and ask me if I wanted to sign for the club, but they told me what they wanted to do and that is why I signed here,” he told the press at the Bangalore Football Stadium.
“Coming from Churchill, which I was really emotionally attached to, wasn’t easy.
“I was playing for a champion club; I’d have been playing AFC and all. But it was just the setup here: before signing any player they signed the coach, and they had everything planned and ready when the players came.”
Chhetri’s continued awe for the “setup” was hard to miss. “Every player has to report an hour and a half early and we have breakfast together – no excuses,” he said.
“We pay fines if we’re not on time. Not to demean anyone but I’ve played in many clubs and not seen this.
“Have you heard of heart-rate monitors in India? This is all normal European stuff – not as posh perhaps but everything is proper.”
Chhetri was wary, though, of discussing Bengaluru FC’s prospects in the I-League. “We’re restraining from doing that; it’s really tricky,” he said. “We have to shut the thing up and train hard. We know we’re not the fancied team – a top five team. Although talented, we’re lacking a little in experience. But if you work hard and listen to the coach, anything is possible.”
As captain of the national side, and the club’s real big name, much will be expected of Chhetri, both as a goal-scorer and a leader.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m under pressure because I shut myself off when I cross the white line,” he said.
“I’ve been playing for the country for eight years and for clubs for 11-12 years. I’ve heard so many good and bad things that I don’t take it seriously anymore.”