To go past the legendary Pele and be just one adrift of Lionel Mess in the list of top goal scorers in the world is an extraordinary feeling and one could be pardoned for being on cloud nine after achieving such a feat.
India skipper Sunil Chhetri, however, said he would not attach too much importance to overtaking Pele in the list of top scorers and would rather concentrate on coming up with his best performance for which team he was representing — whether country or his club.
India skipper Chhetri scored a brace — his 78th and 79th goals in his 124th match in the SAFF Championship in the 3-1 win against hosts Maldives in Male on Wednesday, going past Pele (77) and Hussain Saeed (78 goals) in the process. He is now tied with Godfrey Chitalu of Zambia on 79 goals and is joint sixth on the list. Ahead of him on the list are Messi (80 goals), Ferenc Puskas (HUN, ESP) 84 goals, Mokhtar Dahati (MAS) 89 goals, Ali Daei (IRN) 109 goals, and Cristiano Ronaldo (POR) topping the list with 115 international strikes to his name.
Though he was happy to be in august company, Chhetri said the times Pele or other greats played in were too different to compare each other’s achievements.
“Sadly, I didn’t have much footages of the great man to watch. But from whatever little I could see, he (Pele) was somebody who was very dynamic, very powerful considering the tackles that were allowed in those times. Football was a little bit more physical and brutal and so in that era to be that physical and to be strong and dynamic and score so many goals was an extraordinary achievement. But sadly, the footages were sadly very short and I couldn’t see him much and that’s the kind of feedback I have about him,” Chhetri said about his recollection of watching footage of Pele’s game during a virtual interaction with journalists on Thursday.
About going past the great Brazilian, a living legend of the game considered by many as the greatest player the game has ever seen, Chhetri said he does not feel anything about that achievement.
“His (Pele’s) number of goals and stats speak for itself. As far as me going above him, I feel nothing about it. I don’t give much attention to it. I am happy scoring goals for my team,” Chhetri said.
He had a similar answer to a question that he is third among active players in the goal scorers list behind Ronaldo and Messi.
“There is no comparison between us. If we are all happy that I am able to score for my country that is sufficient. As far as comparison is concerned, there is no comparison. We all are happy that our player scores for the country and has been doing his best. That’s all it is about and there is nothing much to it. So, as I have said this before, appreciate them for a few minutes and ignore these numbers,” said Chhetri.
The India skipper said the mood in the Indian camp was upbeat following the win against the Maldives in their own backyard in hostile conditions. He admitted that things were not good after the draws against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka that put the team in a must-win situation against both Nepal and Maldives in order to make the final.
He said the senior players kept the youngsters’ morale up despite the disappointing performance in the first two matches and said they were happy to have made a comeback.
He said the main reason for the topsy-turvy performance in the first two games was because the players had not played many matches together and therefore could not work out the right combination. He said the Indian team did not have a good start against Bangladesh and though they played a little better against Sri Lank, they missed too many chances. He said they improved their game in the 1-0 win against Nepal and things were far better in the match against the Maldives and that they were slowly finding the right combination.
Asked about the pressure on him to score goals in each and every match, Chhetri said he does not think on those lines and just has a simple philosophy for life — just to go and do his best in every match as the clock is ticking. He said he does not think of what others are saying about him and his game and just wants to go on doing his best till his last match.
“I try not to think about this surrounding noise, as I think of it, and concentrate on my work. It is not healthy for me to read, see and watch things that are talked about me, so I keep myself away from that. My job is simple, I try and score whichever team I am playing for — my country or my club. Sometimes I do score, sometimes I miss silly goals that are all part of the game and I try to keep things as simple as that,” he added.
About India’s upcoming SAFF football final against Nepal on Friday, Chhetri said Nepal are the best team in the tournament even though they don’t have any top stars. “They are a very good team and even though they have never won the SAFF title, it will be a tough match and we will have to play good football against them,” said the India captain.
India have won the SAFF title seven times and are the favourites to win the title on Friday.