Hyderabad: National football team captain Sunil Chhetri says the popularity of the game is on an upswing with the advent of Indian Super League (ISL) and the task now is to build on the momentum through quality matches and enhanced media coverage.
"It's quite good, especially with the ISL coming up. It really enhanced the popularity we have as a nation. I think a lot of interest has been generated. Not only in terms of fans coming to watch the match, but also the corporate houses, the media and everyone coming and chipping in," Chhetri said.
"I think it is very, very important if we can generate interest. It is a first step. Then we have to make sure lot of other things is done to make the game more popular," he said.
Chhetri, who currently has 50 goals for India, felt that the training facilities and quality of game needs to improve to raise fans' interest.
"One of the things is to make sure that we have proper training facilities so that the game tempo increases, the quality improves. The more the quality improves then the fans are going to watch and they are going to be interested more to watch, make sure the matches are on TV, make sure the timings are right. All these things together if done well, the popularity will keep improving," the 31-year-old star forward said.
Noting that the Indian football team is passing through transition, Chhetri felt that the ecosystem of the game needs to improve for the side to achieve better results.
"I think it is in a transition period. But, there are a lot of youngsters coming in. We have a new coach. It's going to take some time. But just alone the national team improving, will not help. The league system has to improve. Everything surrounding has to improve then only the remaining things are going to improve.
"As far as I am concerned, as a player, I want to improve myself as much as I can. I am sure everything else is going to improve," Chhetri said.
The Indian football team continued to languish at 156th in the latest FIFA rankings.
Chhetri currently plays for Mumbai City in ISL and Bengaluru FC in I-League.
Chhetri, who is credited with making substantial contributions in India's wins in 2007 Nehru Cup, 2009 Nehru Cup, the 2012 Nehru Cup as well as the 2011 SAFF Championship, said he would not like to set any long-term goals for himself.
"I don't have long-term goals. I never had them. For me, it bodes well when I have the next week, for me it is next training, next one week of training, next game. I can consider it more like that. I never kept long term targets. Right now, I have to start the pre-season.
"For me it is more important to go and feel about the next week. We just started with Bangalore FC. I never had long term targets. Always short term, for me it is more achievable.
I know exactly what I am doing. The next training session, next match, it is more workable for me," he said.