AFC Cup: It has been a disappointing year for India football captain Sunil Chhetri. His club Bengaluru FC had a poor Indian Super League (ISL) campaign and the legend missed India’s return to international football after he was diagnosed with COVID-19. The captain, leader and legend said the first few days of the isolation was brutal. But now, he is fit and back to training again as he seeks BFC’s redemption in the AFC Cup as well as India in the upcoming FIFA-AFC World Cup qualifiers.
“You know when you don’t have COVID and you think or read about it, you think that you will be fine. You are a fit person and nothing will happen, but I really struggled. I have never felt that kind of physical pain ever in my life. It was brutal. It is not something that one can mess around with. Recovery was good,” Sunil Chhetri told the New Indian Express.
Got an all-clear from the tests and couldn’t be happier to get back on the pitch (I missed it bad!). Grateful for all the kind messages that came in, wishing me a speedy recovery. Importantly, I’d want every one to stay safe and mask up at all times. pic.twitter.com/49YrYdJKlu
— Sunil Chhetri (@chetrisunil11) March 28, 2021
“You think you are fitter than what you are, but the medical team handled the situation well and slowly helped me get into training. What you think is once you test negative, you can go and start training, but it is not like that. It is a process and you have to be careful and start slowly,” Chhetri added.
However, the good news for all his fans and the Indian football fraternity is that he has recovered in time and is ready to lead Bengaluru FC again in the AFC Cup, a tournament that is special to the southern club and an important one this year, especially after finishing 7th in the ISL and missing out on the playoffs for the first time. Chhetri said he expects a reaction from the team and bounce back.
“I really expect a reaction and it starts from an individual, especially from the whole team. Because I am the senior one, the captain, I want it for myself. See the good thing, when we lose a game, sometimes, what you do is start pointing your fingers at each other, the good thing was that we were so bad, every one of us was so bad that there are no pointing fingers at anyone. There is so much to improve within your own boundaries that it is a good time. The good thing is we did so badly that we have so much space to improve. We know what we can do,” Chhetri said.
Bengaluru FC will face Nepal’s Tribhuvan Army in the AFC Cup Preliminary Round 2 match. A win will guarantee BFC a spot in the play-off round against either of Abahani Dhaka of Bangladesh or Club Eagles of Maldives. This time though, BFC aren’t a dominant side, especially after failing to progress to the AFC Cup group stages last season, having lost to Maldives’ Maziya SC&C in the tie-breaker.
Go behind the scenes with BFC TV and get close to the buildup, the action and reaction from the Blues’ first game under Marco Pezzaiuoli, a friendly against FC Goa at the GMC Stadium, earlier this week. Watch! #WeAreBFC #BluesInAsia pic.twitter.com/DBxeql35mv
— Bengaluru FC (@bengalurufc) April 9, 2021
“We are taking one game at a time. Generally, when I say this, we are the dominant side and we want to stay humble. But this time I’m saying it and meaning it. We watched Tribhuvan beat the Sri Lankan team. You can see the unity and the way they have trained. It’s not going to be easy. So, we are not thinking about the group stages or who we are going to play next,” Sunil Chhetri said.
It will also be a test for the new coach Marco Pezzaiuoli after BFC parted ways with Carles Cuadrat in the middle of last season. While the German’s coaching techniques will be different than Cudarat’s, Chhetri said he already saw some positive changes.
“There are few differences compared to what we would do under Carles. There are few similarities, but you can see a distinct difference. I have just started training seven to eight days under him. One good thing is the change, and it is a very positive change at the club, which is good. The youngsters are enjoying it. What a new manager does is there is no prejudice, there is no previous baggage of what one can do and one cannot. He will see whatever he sees in training and he will make his mind. Also, the fact that we were horrible, to say the least, last year, gives an added motivation to all of us to give and perform as good as we can,” Chhetri said.