PANJIM: Indian national team skipper and Bengaluru FC talisman Sunil Chhetri spoke highly of the exposure that the Indian Super League (ISL) provides to youngsters and the role that it plays in elevating their playing standards early on in their careers.
Speaking on the ISL Media Day in Bengaluru last week, Chhetri gave the example of towering centre-back Sandesh Jhingan and how facing seasoned international forwards such as Ferran Corominas, Bartholomew Ogbeche, and Miku helped the FC Goa defender significantly early on in his career.
“I think all the prospects that have the chance of representing the country, day in day out train with better players, play in better games, how last year it (competition) was tough but this year it looks even tougher from whatever knowledge we have of all the teams. So, when every year the league becomes more competitive, it helps each and every player who is a part of the league,” Chhetri said in a press release issued here.
The forward added, “I always give the example of Sandesh Jhingan when he was young and in Kerala, he was facing the likes of Coro, Ogbeche, and Miku, and trying to stop them from scoring; that is one of the main reasons why he proved what he has proved. So, I think with every year, with the standard of the league getting better, better players come in and it helps youngsters who are a part of the ISL because they are training with better players, and that’s what matters because it improves all of us.”
The ISL has been essential in expanding the footprint of footballing fandom in India beyond the traditional hotbeds like Kerala, West Bengal, and the northeastern states of the country. Bengaluru has organically emerged as a city that takes the sport seriously and there are similar examples of the same in Odisha, Mumbai, Chennai, and Jamshedpur, amongst others. This year, the ISL has stepped foot in northern India with the promotion of Punjab into the top tier. Chhetri had some warm words to say about the footballing culture of Bengaluru and how it has flourished in the previous decade.
“I think it will sound a little bit more biased, but I think we have the best (fans) in the country. We have got the giants of Kolkata, who have got a lot of numbers, Kochi has a lot of numbers, a lot of clubs have a lot of fans and they do really well when we play for the national team. But, because I know so much of what goes into the preparation, and I have seen so much in the last 10 years, I believe we have the best fans,” Chhetri said.
“Every year, they grow in numbers but also in quality. I think if 10 years back someone would have come and said that in football BFC fans are going to come and do what they have done, people wouldn’t have believed them. But, I think they have really done well and I hope as fans, for BFC, we keep our feet on the ground and keep improving,” he signed off.
The 10th season of the Indian Super League kicks off on September 21, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi, with a blockbuster clash between rivals Kerala Blasters FC and Bengaluru FC, at 7.45 pm.