National team has worthy successors: Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri said the national team has worthy successors to him. Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Just two years short of completing two decades of an illustrious international career, India captain Sunil Chhetri on Saturday said that he is "fossilized" and the country may not find his exact replacement but insisted that the national team has "worthy" successors.

The 38-year-old Chhetri made his international debut in 2005 and since then he has broken several records, including becoming the most-capped India player (133 matches) and scoring the most international goals (85) for the country -- third among active footballers in the world.

"I am fossilized. I have played for a long time, that is why you may not be able to find the exact replacement but there are many players who will do well, if not better than me," Chhetri said when asked if the country has got his replacement.

"You might not see a direct successor of me right now. I am not in the age bracket as the other senior players (in the national team)," he said during a virtual interaction ahead of the four-team Intercontinental Cup which India is hosting in Bhubaneswar from June 9-18.

He named Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sandesh Jhingan, Amrinder Singh, Rahul Bheke and Rowlin Borges as potential leaders after him. Chhetri also said it would be better if head coach Igor Stimac identifies 11 or 14 players as soon as possible and gives them more game time together ahead of the AFC Asian Cup, scheduled to be held in Qatar in January. Chhetri felt India's group in the Asian Cup this time -- with Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria -- looks tougher than the earlier edition in 2019.

"In my opinion, slowly and steadily we have to move towards having the same 11 or 14 players. As soon as he [Stimac] realises this is the 11 or 14, it is better for the team. This is my opinion and the coach might be having a different view.

"The more games these 11 or 14 players play from now on till the Asian Cup, the better for the understanding of the team. As soon as the national team realises and fixes its first 11 or 14, small things like understanding, left shoulder or right shoulder, who is going to mark in set pieces, to apply these on the pitch is important."

"Going forward, giving a huge target to myself and the team would not be ideal. Right now, we are trying to think about becoming as tough an opponent as possible.

"A lot of underdogs have shown that like Morocco did (in the World Cup) that if you are a good unit you can make it difficult for other teams to play against you. That is our first and prime target," Chhetri concluded.