As talismanic Indian striker Sunil Chhetri joined the elite list of Indian Footballers to be named a Padma Shri, the man with highest number of International goals for India, admitted being in that elite list makes him “a bit nervous.” In an interview, an emotional Chhetri spoke at length whether this changes him as a player, his feelings, the critics, and much more.
What is the significance of the Padma Shri Award for Sunil Chhetri?
At the moment, it’s just pure happiness. It hasn’t sunk in as yet. I need some time to feel it. I need some time to understand what the recognition actually means.
Congratulatory messages must be pouring in.
Seeing people around me being happy makes me happier. The buzz around has been so wonderful. I feel blessed to be surrounded with people who find more happiness in my achievements. People around me have been jumping with joy. Looking back, this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of so many people.
Whom do you dedicate this to?
My mom and dad stays on the top of that list. We owe it all to our parents. My wife Sonam has always been an inspiration, this is also for her, as much it is for my sister Bandana, and my two brothers — Sonu (Lamba) and Kunaal (Majgaonkar).
I also dedicate it to the Footballing fraternity, my teammates, the fans who have been a pillar of strength all throughout.
Real friends are those who just don’t say good things about you at all times. There have been many friends who have criticised me and told me on my face about the right things to do during critical junctures. They are my well-wishers – they are also part of this award.
The Padma Shri list has just six members including you. Isn’t that an elite club?
Apart from Bhaichung-bhai, I have always read about them. I am aware of the aura all of them possess. It was my dad who had educated me about their exploits much before I became a professional player. Being in the same club as them is a feeling which I can’t express, it can make you nervous.
Look at that list – the late Gostho Paul, the late Sailen Manna, P.K. Banerjee, Chuni Goswami and Bhaichung-bhai. They are all legends. To be in that same list is an honour for me. It gives me goosebumps. It is also a reminder to me on what I need to do, all in my effort to improve every minute as a footballer.
Does this change you as a player?
As a player, I need to keep working hard. There’s no alternative to that. No award can make you a better player unless you strive to be one. But yeah, this is an added motivation for me. This Award will surely spur me on, to maybe, be the hungrier, fittest and the sharpest among all in my team.
And as a human being?
Every person has flaws, so do I. I understand it and strive to be a better version of myself – a better human being. I feel I need to set a better example to others. On that perspective, I am loving that extra pressure which has come with this Padma Shri announcement.
Is this the highest reward you have ever received?
I don’t know. Right from the time I started reading sports pages in newspapers, I have read about the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shri award. God has been kind, and I have been extremely fortunate enough to receive both. I cannot compare as to which one is the bigger one. I reiterate, for me, people around me jumping with joy makes me happiest.
Dreams make a man complete. Right from your school days in Delhi, did you ever dream of going this far?
No chance. Never ever in my wildest dreams did I ever think this far. I just wanted to play Football, and in the process went on to play 100 games for my country, captain India, scored goals for India, received the Arjuna Award, and now the Padma Shri. I have learnt to live in the present and not think very far. That’s the way I am.