Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri has made an impassioned plea to all the Indian fans of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo – "abuse us, criticise us, but please come to watch the Indian national team play."
With less than two weeks left for the football World Cup to begin and broadcasters urging fans of the 'beautiful game' to profess their love for their "doosri country" via hashtags, country's all-time highest goal-getter demanded some love and affection for their 'first country'.
India, who have improved their ranking to 97 in current Fifa chart, routed Chinese Taipei 5-0 on Friday, 1 June, in the opening game of the four-nation tournament with less than 2,000 fans watching from the stands.
The skipper, who scored his third international hat-trick in front of near empty Mumbai Football Arena (MFA) stands, had a message for all the resident 'Gooners', 'Red Devils' and 'Catalans', for whom Arsenal, Manchester United and Barcelona means "we".
Chhetri's plea was not only about accepting where they stand, but also what little they want from the fans.
To all of you who are fans of big European clubs and support European clubs with so much passion and sometimes you guys think that the level is not the same, so why do you waste your time? Agreed, the level is not the same, not even close but with our desire and determination, we will try our best to make your time worth.Sunil Chhetri
"To all of you, who have lost hope or don't have any hope in Indian football, we request you to come and watch us in the stadium," the skipper said.
Chhetri had a request for all the arm-chair critics of Indian football – please abuse but make the 'Blue Tigers' feel relevant.
"I mean it's not fun to criticise and abuse on internet. Come to the stadium, do it on our face, scream at us, shout at us, abuse us, who knows one day we might change you guys, you might start cheering for us. You guys have no idea how important you guys are and how important your support is," the skipper appealed.
India will face Kenya on 4 June, which will incidentally be Chhetri's 100th international match.
"I request you all to please come... talk about the game, go back home, have discussions, make banners. Please get involved, this is an important time and juncture in Indian football and football in India needs you guys."
Please Support Indian Football: Virat Kohli
Soon after Chhetri posted his video, Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli too made an appeal for the football team.
“I want to request everyone to go watch the Indian football team play. Anyone who likes any kind of sport, go and cheer for the team in the stadiums because they’re working hard,” said Kohli.
Time We Support Our Athletes: Sachin Tendulkar
After Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar joined the bandwagon and appealed to all Indians to show their support for all forms of sport. In a short video posted on Facebook, he says, “Our athletes go through rigorous training sessions to bring laurels to India. Getting support is the best tonic an athlete can get.”
Never Knew My Video Will Have so Much Impact, Admits Chhetri
India football captain Sunil Chhetri on Sunday admitted that he never thought his emotional video on social media seeking support for the national team would create so much impact.
“It (the video) wasn't for the special occasion. My phone is hanged. I never knew it is going to have that kind of impact. I thank everyone who has joined in. It is a simple message," Chhetri said.
"We played the game and was great to go and celebrate with the Blue Pilgrims and a few Mumbai fans but then I was talking to Sandesh (Jhinghan) about how Kerala has done well, Chennai does well, BFC is going well. The top most is Kerala Blasters, where a player can't hear each other and the atmosphere takes everything from you."
India played their opener of the Intercontinental Cup here against Chinese Taipei in a relatively empty stadium and Chhetri urged the football fans to throng the ground and support them in their remaining matches of the tournament.
You want to live the 90 minutes, this is what we want to feel. This is something we couldn’t feel here. Not request to watch Sunil Chhetri, but we are wearing the Blue and it will be great (if people support us)
"That's why I just went on Twitter. I never thought it's going to follow hits. I got some 1000 messages on Whatsapp. I hope everyone takes in right way because it was from my heart, there was no hidden agenda. I thank everyone who joined in, it really helps, Virat (Kohli) and all joined it, it was a sweet gesture,” Chhetri added.
Further commenting on the video, he said it was a one-take and was unplanned.
“I didn't think twice (before shooting the video). It wasn't planned. It is something that I felt that I am going to make it, I did not talk to my team, just posted it. So whatever reaction I am getting, most of them are positive. If you are saying, somebody thinks that I was pleading, I don't feel ashamed,” he said.
Asked about the schedule of India's games in the tournament which are mostly on week days, Chhetri said he would raise the issue with the authorities concerned.
“Very valid point. I hope next time we can do a little bit better. 8 PM time is great as it helps. If it is Saturday or Sunday it helps more. Whenever I talk to them, I will put it forward,” he signed off.
(With inputs from PTI)