Teammates’ effort to follow me is satisfying, says Chhetri

India captain Sunil Chhetri, 33, whose goal-scoring ability and confidence on the pitch has become a benchmark for younger players trying to get into the Indian team, talked about the feelings on the eve of his 100th international match.

A marked man on the playing arena and hugely followed off it, he spoke about moulding younger teammates by personal example. A prolific scorer for India and at club level, he hoped a day would come when World Cup qualifiers from Asia would be more than willing to play against India frequently. Excerpts from the chat, ahead of the tie against Kenya at the Andheri Sports Complex:

You happily look ahead to playing the 100th game for India and more in the future. At the same time, the national team’s FIFA ranking is below 100. Do you feel that India’s rankings can go lower than the current 97th?

We have the desire to move up the [FIFA] rankings. We need to keep working hard. I don’t take rankings seriously because of the way it works. Our agenda is to play well and try to win. To reach under-100 was difficult but to stay there is very, very difficult. Rankings help in certain aspects, like when a tournament draw is made. We have to make sure to give our best at every opportunity.

Do you feel the jitters before a match now as compared to the time you first played for India?

Jitters and anticipation is still the same. I do not like late [night] games. I have learnt to deal with it. I wonder why we cannot get up at 6.30 and play at 10 a.m., then you are thinking and the mind is so powerful. I have learnt to follow a plan, ready something to keep the mind occupied. When you think too much before a game, especially 8 o’clock, it becomes difficult. It does not matter who we are playing and which tournament.

Can you explain the changes in you happening with experience?

I have become calmer. Once you grow older and play more, you tend to start filtering stuff which aren’t needed. I do the things which work for me.

As captain of a young side and newcomers getting international debut, how do you motivate teammates?

I have understood that lectures don’t work and [so] try to be a good example. If I go up to a young player and try to tell him the importance of being on time, the importance of hitting the gym, maybe, he will not take me seriously. Instead, I try to do it myself so that the boys can see and follow.

It gives me immense joy that Jeje (Lalpekhlua) is trying to follow me. He started in front of my eyes just the other day, now he is nearing 50 international matches. He watches what I eat, what I do. The effort to improve by teammates after watching me do things is so satisfying.