New Delhi: Only the third Indian footballer to ply trade outside the country, Sunil Chhetri said he took to football only to get entry into a good college and never thought of earning a livelihood out of the game.
"I never knew I could make a profession out of football. I never thought I could make a career out of it. The main motive for me was to get a certificate that can get me into a good university. That was my whole motive. That I could get decent marks in my exams and have the national certificate to get into some good colleges," said Chhetri who became the first Indian to join a Major League Soccer (MLS) side when he signed for Kansas City Wizards last month.
"When I played a youth tournament, I was 16. I came back and Mohun Bagan, one of the major clubs in our country, saw me and signed me. I never knew how much you can earn and what kind of career you can have from soccer. Once I joined Mohun Bagan, I never looked back," he told official MLS website.
Chhetri, the only third Indian after Mohammad Salim and Bhaichung Bhutia to play professional football outside the country, is yet to play in MLS but has made his KC Wizards debut in Lamar Hunt US Open Cup against the Colorado Rapids.
He hoped his joining KC Wizards would pave the way for other Indians to play abroad.
"I think if not MLS and if not Europe, there are a lot of places that players can go and perform. They can still go to Australia, a place like Qatar or Japan where they have great facilities. For football to prosper, the infrastructure is not there (in India). They can at least see how far they can go and where they stand with proper facilities. I hope me coming to MLS is going to pave way for a lot of players to go abroad.”
"There is a lot of talent in our country. But the right nourishment at the right age is what we lack in our country. The kind of infrastructure, I can really say it`s poor. I don`t think there is any scarcity of talent. But we lack the infrastructure and facilities that players need to develop."
Talking about his earlier trials at Coventry City and Queens Park Rangers, both English Championship sides, Chhetri said, "I was called by Coventry in January 2007, but my club East Bengal didn`t release me. They released me on 28th, and 31st was the transfer deadline in England. I was there for three days but things didn`t work out."
"Then I had something with QPR. Everything was done. We signed the deal. But the FA didn`t allow me because my country didn`t qualify in the first 70 of the FIFA rankings. In the Championship in England, there is a rule that your country has to be 70 or better in the rankings," said the Delhi lad.