Mumbai: Having missed action last year in the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL), Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri on Saturday said that he is itching to rub shoulders with some of the world's best players in the second edition of the lucrative tournament beginning October 3.
Chhetri, who did not play last year as his I-League club Bangalore FC refused to release him, said that Indian football as a whole will be benefitted as some legends of the game are gracing the lSL as either players or coaches and he was happy to be part of the tournament.
"I missed last year but now I am happy to be part of ISL. The popularity of the league in the inaugural year and the top class players brought on the table, it's a treat to watch them. I am raring to go and do well for my team. The quality of the ISL is higher than the I-League and this is a different tournament. We can learn a lot from these top international players and coaches," he said at a media event ahead of the tournament here.
"Technique and quality for sure the Indian players cannot compare with the top international players in the ISL. But in strength and fitness, we are not inferior and we can improve upon it. It is going to be a great learning process for the Indian players," said Chhetri, the most expensive Indian player in the league as he was snapped by FC Mumbai City for Rs 1.2 crore in the player auction in July.
Asked about any particular area which can be beneficial to the Indian players, he said, "It is difficult to pinpoint one area but you can say that ball passing is one area. These international players are the best in ball passing. We can improve on the understanding of the game. Personally, I can be a better player by playing with these top players."
With the buzz surrounding the tournament building, the eight ISL teams fielded three from each of them - coach, marquee foreign player and an Indian player - for a media interaction here with the likes of Nocolas Anelka, Florent Malouda, John Arne Riise, Marco Materazzi, Elano Blumer, Helder Postiga, Lucio, Adrian Mutu, Simao Sabrosa turning up.
Brazilian great Zico (FC Goa) and former England manger Peter Taylor were among the coaches present. The tournament kicks off with a match between defending champions Atletico de Kolkata and Chennaiyin FC in Chennai on October 3.
FC Mumbai City have a strong strike force with the likes of Chhetri and Haitian international Sony Norde in their ranks but coach-cum-player Anelka, who himself is a goal scorer, said that his side will pay as much importance in defence as in other areas.
"I am excited that we have a strong strike force. I know Sunil can score goals, he is the highest Indian goal scorer. But there are many more players in my team who can score. We want to score goals but we also want not to concede goals. Defence will also have to be good and after that we have good strikers to score goals and we will see," he said.
"We had a very good pre-season training in Dubai and we hope we make our owner (Ranbir Singh) proud by winning the championships," said the 36-year-old former Chelsea and French international striker whose team finished seventh in the eight-team league last year.
Defending champions Atletico de Kolkata have added the 33-year-old Portugal international striker as their marquee player for the second season and coach Antonio Habas said that he was not under any pressure as last year champions but would want to start the tournament on a winning note on October 3 against Chennaiyin FC.
"We don't have any pressure. It is football and every match is a pressure situation and we don't have extra pressure as defending champions. We have new players in the team as we made a lot of changes from the squad of last year. We had a very good pre-season training in Spain and we want to win the title again," he said.
"The first game against Chennai will be a tough one but I want to take full three points from that. It is always good to start a tournament well," he added.
Last edition runners-up Kerala Blasters were the only side to have not gone for a foreign pre-season training stint but their coach Pater Taylor justified it, saying that he had wanted his foreign players to acclimatise with the heat and humid conditions in India.
"Every coach has his own thinking and they work accordingly. I thought it is better for the foreign players to adjust and acclimatize to the conditions and we did not go abroad for pre-season training. We did that in Kerala and I think we are well prepared for the tournament," said Taylor.
Stressing on the flexibility of his squad, the former England manager said, "We have many players who can play in different positions and that will be useful in these conditions when you got to travel a lot and play home and away basis."
"We want to go one step ahead than last year and win the tournament."
Brazilian great and FC Goa coach Zico said that he has got a strong squad and wants his team to do better than the semifinal appearance last year.
"We have a very strong squad on paper but we have to translate it into performance on field. I made changes of 13-14 players from last year but I am happy that we had a very good preparation in Dubai in pre-season training.
"I think I have a squad who can implement my football philosophy on the field. My philosophy is not exactly the same as the attacking style philosophy of Brazil team but his own philosophy. I had just one Brazilian player last time but this time I have more. Even Indian players are doing very well. So, I want to play at least in the final this time," said Zico, who said his decision to stand for FIFA Presidency will have no impact on the ISL performance of his team.
His marquee player and 2002 World Cup winner Lucio said he decided to come to India to take up a new challenge in his career.
"It is a new challenge in my career. I did not know much about India earlier but I wanted to take up the challenge. Then there is Zico as coach and I cannot say no to him.
"I think India has a great potential and football profile can really be improved in the coming years. I find the Indian players talented and hard working and wanting to learn. I want to teach them and make them better footballers with my experience," he added.
Delhi Dynamos coach-cum-marquee player Roberto Carlos did not turn up. John Arne Riise, Florent Malouda and Robin Singh represented the Delhi team.
"This is a new experience for me. It's my first time in India. We have lot of ambition. We want to win the title. But it is the same old things in football. We train hard in Norway and Denmark in the pre-season training and we have gel each other very well. There are few differences (in the level of players) but we have to communicate," he said.
Former Liverpool and Norway star Riise said, "I hope to score those spectacular goals I scored while playing in Liverpool and fight for title. I want to help Indian football. We have more options in Europe than the Indian players. I want to help them."