Sunil Chhetri

Indian national football team Captain Sunil Chhetri said that more youngsters from the country need to train in the European academies to improve as players.

“I just hope a lot of Indian youngsters, if not a few, get a chance to go to these (European) academies when they are 17-18 years old and still have 4-5 years to improve. They’ll get an opportunity to train with better players in a better league and just improve,” Chhetri told Indian Super League’s website on April 20.

“When you get an opportunity to play in those academies, you’ll get to know the game in a better way. You’ll get to fine-tune the technicalities, understanding of the game,” he added.

Eight years after signing his first professional contract with the Mariners in 2002 when he was 17 years old, Chhetri had his first overseas stint when he signed a professional contract with Sporting Kansas City.

In the process, he became the first Indian footballer to earn a professional contract from a Major League Soccer (MLS) club.

“I played two games (for Kansas Sporting City) and came back and they offered me a contract. I went there as a Kansas player and I think I had played 6-7 friendly games,’ including a game against Manchester United.

“In two games, I scored two hat-tricks and a brace and I thought I’d start for the team. I had a lovely pre-season where I scored 14 goals in 7 games,” Chhetri mentioned.

As the MLS season kicked off, although Peter Vermes, who happens to be the longstanding coach of the club outfit until now, wanted Chhetri to stay with the club, the 25-year-old lad preferred to sacrifice his club contract and join the Indian team camp for the-then forthcoming AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011.

“The national team were up for an 8-month-long camp before the AFC Asian Cup in 2011, I didn’t go for the first few months and when the last 2 months were left, Bob (Houghton) called me saying, ‘If you’re not starting and playing there right now, you can come’,” Indian captain said.

“I talked to Peter Vermes and he said ‘Listen, you have just come to the team, you’re still in and out. Are you sure you want to do this?’ I said: ‘Yeah, I want to go to the National Team camp’,” he added.

In the Continental Championship, Chhetri went on to score one apiece against Bahrain and Korea Republic.

The man with 72 International goals went on to describe his next foreign sojourn with Sporting Lisbon as a great experience.

“I went to Sporting Lisbon and it was a great experience for me. Bruma, Eric (Dier), Pedro (Mendes), Joao Mario were there, and they are doing so well around the world right now. I was 26 then and all these kids were 18, 19 and 20 years old. When I came back, I was a more mature person,” he concluded.

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