The first few days after Sunil Chhetri tested positive for COVID-19 were the worst of his life.
“The first five days, I struggled immensely,” he says. “I have never felt that kind of physical pain ever. It was brutal. You think you will be fine…you are a fit person and nothing will happen…. but I really struggled.”
A month on, Chhetri is inching towards full fitness, slowly and steadily, even as Bengaluru FC (BFC) gears up for the 2021 AFC Cup Preliminary Stage Two clash against Nepalese side Tribhuvan Army FC, on April 14 in Goa.
“You cannot give a percentage or you don’t know where you are lacking. It is a process and you have to be careful,” the India and BFC skipper adds.
The AFC Cup contest will mark the start of a new era for BFC, under head coach Marco Pezzaiuoli. Following the disastrous 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) campaign, in which BFC finished seventh and saw its then manager Carles Cuadrat exit, Chhetri expects a response.
“I really expect a reaction. I am the senior one, the captain, and I want it from myself. When you lose a game, sometimes, you start pointing fingers at each other. The good thing last season was that, each one of us were so bad, there are no pointing fingers. Apart from Cleiton [Silva], Suresh [Wangjam] and a few young guys, we were properly bad.”
“But there is so much room for improvement. When you have a coach who has so much clarity and experience, it’s a boost.”
The managerial change has brought in good vibes, Chhetri feels. “It is a very positive change. A new manager has no prejudice and no previous baggage of what one can do and one cannot. He will see whatever he sees in training and make up his mind. Everyone knows this. Also, the fact that we were horrible last year, to say the least, gives us added motivation.”
Wednesday’s clash against Tribhuvan Army is sure to offer significant cues and Chhetri remains quietly confident.
“We are taking one game at a time. Generally, when I say this, we are the dominant side and it is meant to make us stay humble. But this time… we watched Tribhuvan in their last game and they play quite well.[But] right now, it’s more about what the coach wants from us and not what the other team is doing. It’s exciting to have the fresh ideas he [Marco] has brought in. Looking forward to it. I hope I make the cut… we still have a few days and I hope I make the cut,” Chhetri says with a smile.