With the FIFA World Cup just a few days away, Chhetri was asked when would India qualify for that showpiece football event and he was at pains to explain that the country was nowhere near that level.
“It’s unfair to compare India with the top football countries in the world. We are far behind in world football,” Chhetri said at the launch of an e-magazine at the German Embassy here.
“Our focus should not be in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup but to be among the top 10 rankings in Asia in the near future. We have to take small steps and first think of rising up to be among the second rung Asian countries,” he said.
Elaborating further, Chhetri said India’s aim should be to rise up to the level of the likes of Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
“We are a dominant country in South Asia. But our standard of football should move ahead of winning SAFF Championships. Our first aim should be to be able to compete with Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
“Then in the next level, we can think of competing the top Asian countries likes Japan, South Korea, Iran, Australia who are representing Asia in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this time,” said Chhetri, who will be commentating during the World Cup.
The 29-year-old striker said he was open to playing in the high-profile Indian Super League, scheduled to be held later this year, if he is allowed to take part in the tournament by his club Bengaluru FC.
“As of now, I don’t know whether I will play in the ISL or not. Of course, I want to play in the tournament. But it all depends on my club. I have a contract with Bangaluru FC and I can play in the ISL only if my club permits me,” he said.
“I have not discussed the issue with the club (authorities), whatever the club wants I will do. But I wish the ISL all the success. It will be a huge tournament,” Chhetri said.
Chhetri’s club Bengaluru FC won the I-League in its first season and he attributed the success to attending to basic things properly under one command – that of the coach.
“It’s because of doing small basic things in a proper and strict way. If we have to sleep at a particular time, all the players will have to follow it strictly. Even while not playing, we have to follow some guidelines, which I cannot divulge.
“Even now, I am to follow the rules and keep myself fit. In short, we follow what the European clubs do and I feel that was the reason for our success,” said Chhetri, who had stints at the Sporting Clube de Portugal reserve side and MLS club Kansas City Wizards.
“There was no two command in the club. (Coach) Ashley Westwood is the boss and all of us whatever he says. He decides everything. That makes the club a united team, with everybody in sync with one goal.”