“Both dad and mom have played football, they too love the sport,” says the cute 28-year-old. In a freewheeling interview with CS, Sunil, the captain of India’s national football team talks about football and life:
Journey so far
I have been in love with soccer since childhood. My dad is my inspiration and he’s taught me the basics of the game. I grew up in an Army background, and have grown up in places like Hyderabad, Jammu, Kolkata and finally Delhi. My professional career started after I finished my twelfth standard. My parents have been supportive throughout. However, dad did insist that I complete my graduation somehow.
There are so many soccer players whom I admire. My favourite is Ronaldo from Brazil. I think he is the one of the best strikers to ever grace the game. I also look up to my dad because he’s always been there for me, and is very passionate about the game. Last but not the least, I absolutely love Lionel Messi. He’s done a lot to popularise the game. My favourite team is FC Barcelona.
Off the field
As soccer players, we have a physically and emotionally demanding work schedule. In an average day, we train for two hours morning and evening, rest, eat and sleep. Footballers across the world are known for their partying, and I don’t see it negatively. It’s okay to let your hair down once in a while. I also enjoy attending events. More than the glamour factor, what attracts me is the idea that more people get interested in soccer. My other hobbies are playing chess, watching films and driving car/bikes.
I think Bhaichung Bhutia did a great job of leading India’s football team. He is a role model for all of us. As a leader, he kept us together as a team and built a wonderful bond. He is there for us, irrespective of the situation. I want to imbibe this quality of his. I want all my players to genuinely feel that I am there for them. Moreover, I want to give back to this beautiful game like he’s doing now with his coaching and academies.
It is flattering to know that girls find me cute (laughs). But I don’t want such admiration to go to my head. I remember this time when a young girl came to meet me at my team hotel in Kolkata. She wanted me to autograph her scrapbook, which had around 120 pictures of mine. Right from early playing days to recent ones, it was evident that she had put in a lot of effort. I was truly touched.