Having played for more than half-a-dozen clubs in his decade-long career, Sunil Chhetri is not averse to changes. However, one routine that took some time getting used to during his time with I-League debutants Bengaluru FC was submitting a urine sample every morning.
“We do it the first thing in the morning and if anybody doesn’t, that person gets a Rs 5,000 fine, and is not allowed to attend training for that day,” says the India captain.
Despite the unexpected addition to the training schedule, the 29-year-old claims that the daily test underscores the professionalism Bengaluru FC has introduced in Indian football.
Further change is coming with the proposed Indian Super League, scheduled to be held this September.
Chhetri, who began his journey as a professional with Mohun Bagan in 2002, asserts that his experience at the Bengaluru club has been very different from anything he has encountered earlier. As the captain of the I-League leaders, he credits the team’s coach Ashley Westwood for the professionalism that runs through the club.
From diet to accommodation to monitoring each player’s heart-rate, the squad is required to adhere to the coach’s guidelines — including the urine test.
“He was a Manchester United youth player and has brought all his experience from there to train us. We are using measures that big European clubs also follow. It’s all very professionally done and has made a big difference in the team’s rise,” says Chhetri.
Bengaluru FC are currently the top of the I-League table, three points ahead of second-placed Salgaocar. With only four games remaining, they are poised for, what Chhetri himself claims, an unexpected, but welcome, triumph.
“When I signed for the club at the beginning of the season, several people had told me to prepare for relegation. But look at us now. We’re so close,” he says, the excitement in his voice unmistakable.
A recent setback to their campaign saw the club lose 3-0 away to Shillong Lajong last weekend. Yet, the striker maintains the team’s morale has not been affected by the loss.
“We are close to the end and everybody knows what’s at stake. There is no way that we can afford to drop our heads now. Besides, Ashley and the crowd will not let us lose hope,” he says.
The packed crowds at the Bangalore Football Stadium, where Bengaluru play their home matches, provide a unique atmosphere for teams who otherwise play in front of empty stands. Chhetri believes the crowd has played a major role in the team’s growth.
“They bring meaning to the words ‘home match,’” he says.
Beyond this season, Chhetri is looking forward to be a part of the ISL.a
“If we talk about the technical aspect, it will be great for us to gain the experience. What is important is the level of football, the standard of coaching which will help football grow,” Chhetri says.
He is unsure as yet whether he will be able to play in the league, depending on its schedule vis-a-vis the I-League. When that happens, Chhetri will be ready to embrace the change it brings.