‘The club, the city is my safe place’

A Terrible Bout Of Flu Wasn’t Going To Keep The Skipper Away From A Reunion He Had Been Longing For, As Bengaluru FC Got Pre-Season Underway With A Traditional Open Session. We Sat The Man Down And He Told Us All About The Squad, The Season He Hopes To Have And Why Bengaluru Is More Than Just About Six Titles For Him…

The flu had wrecked him hard enough to confine Sunil Chhetri to his room at the team hotel in Qatar, while his comrades on the national team went on to pull off a result that would dominate headlines across the country. Elation overshadowed illness when he called to share the joy, but you could tell he was suffering. A red-eye flight that landed in Bengaluru at 4 am on Thursday morning wasn’t the best antidote, but the captain was just glad to be back home.

He didn’t allow us a ‘hello’, let alone questions about his health. Instead, he had a query of his own. “Are the fans turning up tomorrow?” Chhetri hadn’t missed an open training session – a tradition at the club for six seasons now, and a flu wasn’t going to alter the rite.

“Walking into the dressing room, meeting the boys and the staff, then walking out and seeing the fans – all of this has made me so happy. It makes me happy every single season. And this feeling is best explained by the bond that we’ve created over six seasons. Every one of those seasons has been special,” says Chhetri.

What started out as a cordial handshake with the city, soon blossomed into a full-blooded hug for Chhetri. “Bengaluru is no longer just about the six seasons I’ve spent here, the trophies we’ve won or those we’ve lost. For me, it’s about life. A few days ago I was speaking to my wife who is Bengali and was in Kolkata, and she said she had enough of Kolkata and wanted to get back home. Home is a big word, and that’s what Bengaluru is to us now. This is where we’ve started our family. This club is more than just a club. The fans are more than just fans. Everything is good here. This is my safe place.”

With the season less than a month away from a start and Bengaluru having done some shrewd business in the transfer window, Chhetri’s impatience can be explained. “I’ve mapped out the team in my head many times over and spare a couple, or three places, every other position is up for grabs. None of us can sleep knowing we will walk into the side. We have signed a star in Raphael Augusto, but if you asked him, even he wouldn’t be able to assure you that he will start every game. And that is a good thing,” the skipper opines.

While Chhetri cherishes the six trophies the club has won, he feels it doesn’t guarantee the Blues anything when they kick start the League campaign against NorthEast United on October 21. “The challenge is massive, but we back ourselves. We haven’t managed to retain a title that we have won, but we have been consistent, and that’s very important. Nine other teams will want this equally badly, we will just need to desire it more.”

In signing Manuel Onwu, Augusto, Ashique Kuruniyan and Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Bengaluru’s threat in attack is a very serious one, on paper at least. And who better than the club’s top scorer for six straight seasons to run us through the threat Bengaluru pose on the offensive.

“A good team is one where you cannot tell who will get the goals. Opponents shouldn’t be able to identify one source or two. We aspire to be a team where Bheke is as much as threat as Onwu in front of the opposition goal.”

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