New Delhi: Star striker Sunil Chhetri is missing former captain Bhaichung Bhutia in the national football camp and said it would be tough for any player to fill in the shoes of a player of his stature.
Talking to the reporters after a brief training session at the Ambedkar Stadium here, Chhetri praised Bhutia for his contribution to Indian football.
"I am missing Bhai (Bhaichung). It`s difficult as I have never been in a national camp without bhai for the past seven years," Chhetri said on the third day of the camp in preparation for India`s 2014 World Cup qualifiers against United Arab Emirates next month.
"But it is going to happen. I spoke to bhai a few days ago. I have been with players of the stature of Vijayan and bhai but one day all will have to go. Sunil Chhetri will also go after some years.”
"What matters is how much contribution one has made to Indian football. I think bhai (Bhaichung) has done a lot for Indian football. It will be tough for the youngsters in the camp to fill in the shoes of bhai, or for that matter the senior players who are not here," Chhetri, Bhutia`s strike partner in the national team for many years, said.
Bhutia and 13 other senior players, who were in India`s squad for Asian Cup in January under Englishman Bob Houghton, were omitted from the camp after new coach Armando Colaco took over the reigns of the national team last month.
India are set to play their first international match with a new set of players after Houghton was sacked but Chhetri was not unduly worried.
"We have a mix of experienced and young players. Many of us have done well in the I-League and I am hoping that we will do well against UAE in the World Cup qualifiers. We had lost 0-5 to UAE last year before the Asian Cup but this time we are hoping to do better," said Chhetri.
India play their World Cup qualifiers second round away match against UAE on July 23 in Dubai while the return-leg match will be played here on July 28.
Asked about the `possession football` Colaco wants to play in contrast to long ball tactics under Houghton, Chhetri said that it will not be difficult for the players to adjust to it as many clubs in the country play that way.
"We have many Dempo players (whose coach is still Colaco). I played for Dempo for two years. Many I-League clubs also played like that, so it`s not going to be difficult for the players," he said.
Talking about the youngsters in the camp, Chhetri said it was a healthy sign that there are six-seven strikers competing for two-three slots in the final squad.
"I am not being modest but I don`t think that me and Jeje Lalpekhlua are certain to get the two slots. There are other very good strikers, including Sushil Singh, Joaquim Abranches, Anil Kumar. It`s really good that we have six-seven strikers in the camp and only two or three play finally," said Chhetri.
Chhetri led an Indian side without some senior players in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying round in Malaysia in March and he felt that many of that team will make it to the squad for the UAE match.
India, still under Houghton then, topped Group B and qualified for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup final round.
Asked about his plans to play abroad and his reported talks with Portuguese top side Benfica, Chhetri said, "I heard about reports that I was with Benfica. I want to play abroad but I will see.”
"I will have this camp and then the World Cup qualifiers. I will try for foreign clubs after that. The club season around the world begins in August and I will keep myself fit to try for clubs abroad," he said.