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‘Thanks for the pranks, Sunil’

Updated on: 17 May,2024 06:20 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ashwin Ferro |

Former India midfielder Steven Dias, who spent almost a decade as Chhetri’s roommate on tours, reveals the star striker’s funny side, but insists he was most disciplined too

‘Thanks for the pranks, Sunil’

Skipper Sunil Chhetri during India’s Qatar 2023 AFC Asian Cup match against Syria at Doha earlier this year. Pic/AFP

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‘Thanks for the pranks, Sunil’

For someone who is the most intense player on the national team, it’s almost impossible to think that Sunil Chhetri has an extremely funny side to him. 

Moments after India captain and star striker Chhetri announced on social media that he will be retiring after the World Cup Qualifier against Kuwait on June 6, former India midfielder Steven Dias recalled the fun in the sun with his ‘partner in crime.’ 

“Sunil and I became room partners by fate. Back in 2004-05, when we were both new to the Indian team set-up, Sunil was notorious for not sleeping through the night as he used to play video games, so no one wanted to be his room partner. Somehow, I got picked, but as soon as I got to know him, our partnership struck and we were inseparable roommates for the next decade,” Dias, 40, who is currently the assistant coach of Indian Super League outfit Jamshedpur FC, told mid-day over the phone from Jamshedpur last evening. 

Steven DiasSteven Dias

Announcing his retirement via a video message on social media platform X, Chhetri, 39, said: “The feeling in the last 19 years is a nice combination of duty pressure and immense joy. I never thought individually, these are the many games I’ve played for the country, this is what I’ve done, good or bad, but this last one-and-a-half, two months I did it and it was very strange. I did it because I was going towards the decision that this game, this next game is going to be my last.”

Chhetri got a tad emotional during his brief message and Dias said that this was in stark contrast to the crazy things they did as teammates back in the day. “In the team bus, Sunil would go around speaking like the famous radio jockey Jeeturaj and interview the senior players and make jokes on them. He would mimic the seniors and even the coaches on their faces and no one objected because that’s how good he was. It was fun being around Sunil and I’m grateful to him for all those pranks,” added Dias. 

Also Read: Still great at 38, Sunil Chhetri won't stop so soon!

Chhetri is known to be a complete team man not just on the field, but off it too, insisted Dias. “I remember at the 2006 Doha Asian Games, there was a small theatre in the Athletes Village where we used to go to watch English movies. Now, many of our players didn’t understand the language, but Sunil would make them all sit around him and translate every dialogue in Hindi loudly for all to hear and understand. He wanted the team to do everything together,” said Dias. 

Then, in 2011, came the captaincy arm-band and the responsibility changed Chhetri. “I was with Sunil in the Indian team till 2013-14 and he did become a bit more serious after he was made captain. But his competitive streak never changed. He trained harder than everyone and was highly competitive even during training. Once, I remember, we got back from training and Sunil was furiously doing sit-ups and push-ups and I asked him why. He replied that another striker had scored a goal during training and he feared that the coach would start the next match with that player over him. He’s brilliant at table tennis, cricket and basketball and hates to lose. If you beat him, he will practice and get back at you,” explained Dias.

Finally, Dias doffed his hat to Chhetri’s discipline. “Back in the day, when dietary restrictions were unheard of, Sunil was the only guy who would keep on researching the Internet to know what’s good and what’s not good for the body. He would scold us if we ate ice cream or candies. His longevity is proof of his dedication and discipline,” Dias signed off. 

No. of international goals scored by Sunil Chhetri, third-highest among active players

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