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Subrata Bhattacharya: Sunil Chhetri was short & didn’t evoke thoughts that he could score!

It was a fateful morning some 17 years ago when I walked into the Mohun Bagan ground where a bunch of young players had gathered for club trials. It was a common feature as the club always wanted to Catch ’em young. And from a distance when I looked at them, the gathered lot seemed no different from the so many trials that I had attended as a coach.

When you are assessing young footballers – perhaps once in a lifetime, a player would come along to lift your heart. I probably did not feel that way that morning. But what I did see were two teenagers who showed hints of promise, and loads of desire, and ambition. Those two kids were Sunil Chhetri and Subrata Paul.

With regards to Sunil, he did show traits that could make him a top striker. He had good pace, and his shooting was more than decent. What really struck me was the desire he showed. At first sight, from the perspective of a tall defender like myself, his diminutive figure did not evoke any thoughts that he would be able to get on the goal.

But he showed an excellent reading of the game. He constantly made runs off the ball, barking at his teammates to pass the ball to him. He was just five-foot-seven, but whenever there was a set-piece, he’d stick himself right into the towering defenders. That really showed the most important thing a coach looks for in a player – hunger.

There was one area, though, where he was lacking was his dribbling abilities. He was perhaps never really a great dribbler.

However, football is not a sport where you sit and brood about your shortcomings. It is a dynamic game where you need to come up with solutions with regards to how to overcome those shortcomings. And over the years, Sunil has done it majestically.

To overcome his dribbling deficiencies, he worked extensively on his dodges, which has added the extra dimension to his game. It is this attitude towards the game that has helped him achieve this one step that perhaps became a leap in the long run.

Once he sets his mind on improving a certain aspect of his game, he would keep going at it till he mastered the craft. During the practice sessions later, he was always willing to put in that extra effort. On the field, he was the coach’s most obedient player. He loved challenges, and even as a teenager, we stayed willing to challenge the seasoned ones.

As Sunil Chhetri completes 15 years in International Football on June 12, we take a trip down memory lane to bring to you his first trial with Mohun Bagan. Here’s the then Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharyya writing for the official website about his first impression of the ‘talismanic’ captain at Mohun Bagan’s trials.

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