Indian Football

For Sunil Chhetri, the cause of the team is far more important than personal records

The 32-year-old recently became the highest Indian goal-scorer in the I-League.

Since Bhaichung Bhutia hung up his boots, Sunil Chhetri has seamlessly moved in to become the country’s leading personality on the footballing sphere. Earlier this week, he became the leading Indian goal-scorer in league football to go with his existing record as top-scorer of India’s national team. The fact that he surpassed Bhutia to reach the landmarks, underscores their impact on the game in India.

For Chhetri who is 32, more goals are obviously on the mind, but more than anything, he is in search of someone who can quickly overcome his tally of 90 goals.

“Obviously, I would like to keep scoring a lot more,” Chhetri said. “But, yes I hope someone surpasses my tally. What it’ll mean is, if someone breaks this record, he will score for the national team also. If Bhaichung would have been asked about it, would he want someone else to break his record he would have said the same thing. Now I have more goals than him in the league and it has all helped contribute towards India,” he said.

Searching for the next Chhetri

After Chhetri and Bhutia, the next highest Indian goal-scorer in league football is Abhishek Yadav with 40 goals. By contrast, international players such as Ranti Martins and Odafa Onyeka Okolie have scored over 150 goals in the I-League apiece.

“Apart from I, Bhaichung, Jeje (Lalpekhlua) there are not many who have played games day in day out. Most teams play with two foreign strikers, Which Indian striker can you think of who plays every other day. Robin Singh has just started getting opportunities to start. But, definitely we need more Indian strikers into games, because the gap is huge,” Chhetri lamented.

Asked if he felt Indian football was headed in the right direction, Chhetri said the roadmap being prepared by the All India Football Federation for the future of Indian football was not clear, stating that it was “difficult” for players to stay motivated with the looming uncertainty.

‘Players need to stick together’

“It is difficult. We had a meeting of the Football Players Association of India. It is difficult. We (players) need to stick together. What the AIFF in collaboration with ISL, I-League decide is not in our hands. But, if we the players stick together will matter. If we come together then they will have take our voice and only then what we say will be important. We all want a clear road-map. It is not there right now, but I hope all the big think tanks are doing their job and we will see what the future holds.”

Since making his debut in 2002, Chhetri has been at the centre of India’s footballing progress, both in the league system as well as the national team. His Bengaluru and India teammates call him “bhai” and its no surprise that he is kept on a pedestal when Indian players speak about him.

With the FPAI, Chhetri has chosen to take the lead and is at the centre of the movement. But, when on the field, he prefers to focus on the game at hand and not delve too much into the aura that is created around him, at least in the Indian football fraternity. With most senior players phasing out of the national team over the past decade, Chhetri alongside Subrata Pal has become the one on whom most players look towards for guidance. To his credit, Chhetri has played the part to the T, but prefers to adopt a cautious approach while treading along the thin line that separates a captain from a teammate.

“In football, you can turn from a hero to villain instantly. My 90th goal was followed by a missed penalty that robbed us of all three points. May be its my age, nobody said anything to me. I am sure they would have liked to abuse me. But the beauty of the game is that one always gets a chance to make amends in two-three days.”

Does the added responsibility weight down the seasoned player?

“As a senior player I try not to think of it too much. As a person of seniority the one thing that has changed is that one cannot falter. When I was young I could take risks. As you grow older, especially when you become captain, you have to lead by example, be the first on the ground, eat right, sleep well. That is what I do and that’s how people follow. As soon as you start lecturing, that is when people don’t follow. That is the example that players like Bhaichung set for us. They showed us the way. It is what we try to do.”

Image credit: AFP
Image credit: AFP

‘We should not take Asian Cup draw lightly’

India have been drawn alongside Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Macau in the qualifying stages of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, a draw that many believe is favourable towards India, Chhetri though feels India would do well to not get complacent.

“It would be a huge mistake if we considered this as a favourable draw. We have always been handed tough draws in the past so that is why people will assume this time it will be easier. But that is not the case,” he said.

“Myanmar outplayed us and beat us 1-0 the last time we faced them. Kyrgyzstan are doing really well and we don’t even know anything about Macau,” he added.

Chhetri insisted that all the players who are called up would need to be at the top of their game, and fit enough to hit the ground running.

“Whoever the gaffer (coach Stephen Constantine) selects for the qualifiers, I hope they report to the national camp in the best shape possible. Especially in our case and that of the Mohun Bagan players, we have AFC Cup commitments so we will be playing a match every 3-4 days. I just hope no one gets injured because we need our full strength team at Myanmar.”

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.