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It’s a pity Sunil Chhetri's wake-up call for India needs Virat Kohli’s approval

So, will you only go to football grounds because your cricketing heroes ask you to?

 |  4-minute read |   04-06-2018
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Sunil Chhetri, India's football captain, is in august company.

After his hat-trick against Chinese Taipei, Chhetri moved to third in the goal-scoring list for active international footballers behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

On June 4, when India take on Kenya in the Intercontinental Cup, he will become only the second Indian to play 100 internationals.

For well over a decade since his international debut in 2005, Chhetri has been Indian football's poster boy.

In short, Chhetri is a sporting legend in a country which hero-worships its cricket stars, accords them demigod status and swoons over their carefully cultivated personas.

Chhetri, by the sheer dint of his record, should hold the same place as Virat Kohli does in the Indian sporting spectrum.

Well, he should but he doesn't.

For if he had, there would have been no need for one of world football's most prolific scorers to plead with his countrymen to come watch him and his mates play.

India's football captain, their highest goal-scorer made an emotional plea: "To all of you, who have lost hope and do not have any hope in Indian football, I request you to come and watch us in the stadiums."

"It is not fun to criticise or abuse on the internet. Come to the stadium, do it on our face, scream at us, shout at us, abuse us and who knows, one day we might change you guys. You might start cheering for us."

It was a two-minute, 20-second clip but Chhetri said enough for India's sporting fans to contemplate how they want to treat their stars.

sunc_060418040836.jpgRanking number 3 — behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on the goal-scoring list — Sunil Chhetri doesn't deserve this. Photo: Indian Football Team

It was an impassioned plea to a generation which loves watching European football. There was plenty of chatter on social media when Real Madrid annhilated Liverpool in the Champions League final and there is always plenty of chatter when Jose Mourinho puts his foot in the mouth all too frequently. But who talks about Indian football?

The Indian team is in Mumbai for a tournament that may not mean much to world football. There are no media rights, no high-profile advertisers, there is none of the charisma of big-ticket players and the high-octane game that the world has come to love.

Yet, there is determination. There's a fire burning inside each of those men who are slogging it out in the oppressive heat of Mumbai. The FIFA World Cup, just days away, will capture the imagination of the entire world including India's but we will continue to ignore our own.

Frankly, who cares what India, Chinese Taipei, Kenya and New Zealand do on a football pitch? Would you not much rather cherish Manchester City's crowning moment or Zinedine Zidane's sensational decision to step down as Real Madrid coach? What happens to Bale? Will Ronaldo stay back in Madrid? Oh, the burden of those thoughts could cripple you!

Stop for a moment to spare a thought for Chhetri's men — they are playing for you, for every Indian. There's not much money to be made, there is no queue of endorsers and TV media rights aren't the most tempting but it is still an Indian team.

And this Indian team deserves as much respect as the cricketers, shuttlers and shooters. Chhetri happens to command the Indian national football team and he is a star! A little over 2,000 people turned up to watch India take on Chinese Taipei. Where's the love?

Not long after Chhetri's video went viral, Virat Kohli threw in his weight. "I want to request everyone to go watch the Indian football team play," he said.

After singing paeans to the Indian football team, Kohli spoke of his vision for a sporting India and urged his fans to show some compassion. "Have compassion, think of how they are representing our nation," the batting superstar said.

Compassion? Our footballers do not need that. They need more respect, they need more support surely but compassion? Why does it need a Kohli or a Tendulkar to come out and ask people to go watch football?

So, will you only go to football grounds because your cricketing heroes ask you to?

Imagine, Chhetri urging Indian fans to go watch India play a T20 International in Hyderabad.

It's a pity. It's outright pity.

But it is not just about the fans, really. The four-nation tournament in Mumbai should have been organised better. Where does the AIFF figure in this? They need to be more proactive.

The matches are being telecast on the same channel that brought you pictures from the IPL. Yet, how many had an inkling that a football tournament would be held days after the richest T20 league in the world.

It was heartbreaking to see Chhetri pleading with fans to watch them play. The issue is far bigger though. Will a packed house watch India take on Kenya Monday? Will Chhetri sweep young fans off their feet like Kohli does?

Will Chhetri's words matter as much as Kohli's does?

At least, Chhetri's impassioned plea is a slap on our faces. It is a wake-up call and while it may not change the fortunes and following of Indian football overnight, it has given all of us some food for thought.

Meanwhile, as we chew on some food for thought, how about some more: could we not have done with our cricketers' patronising comments on Indian footballers?

Also read: Can't compare Virat with Sachin Tendulkar, whatever stats may say

Writer

Rajarshi Gupta Rajarshi Gupta @rajarshigupta_8

Cricket writer and enthusiast who has spent nearly a decade in cricket journalism.

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