It is undeniable that the Indian National Team’s fitness standards have progressively improved over the years. Current stars like Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu lead the way in this regard. As football keeps levelling up, maintaining a good physique and a strict diet is becoming increasingly important. In a chat with Sunil Chhetri conducted by the AIFF, he discusses how today’s players are more aware of their diet and physical fitness than the ones a few years back and the role that the seniors play in motivating them and keeping them on track.
While it’s common to see birthdays celebrated with a tempting cake in camps, Sunil says the scenario is now different for the Indian Football Team, “Earlier when there was a birthday, and there is a match next, we didn’t need that cake. So I said we are gonna have a small cupcake for celebration, we will cut a piece and the birthday boy gets it, and we are done. Now in this camp, I don’t have to say anything because Jhingan and Gurpreet have crazy eyes on anyone who even touches it before a game.“
Just like we reward ourselves with a well-earned treat after reaching some goal, Sunil says his fellow mates are not so different, “It is so nice to see that their cheat meals are planned. They discuss that 15th they are going to try and win the game and 16th they are going to eat this and that because they haven’t eaten that in two months.” Smitten by the discipline of the players, Sunil continues, “It is such a nice thing to watch. These are small margins, but you will see its effect on the body shape and the way we have structured now. People like Gurpreet, Sandesh, and Borges follow it so religiously.“
The strict dietary habits and physical activity regimens of the senior players have a direct impact on the younger players part of the camp, says Sunil,” When these boys follow it, and they are the senior ones for the other younger ones, they are all going to get influenced by it. And it’s so nice to see that.” He recalls the time when he was among the few to follow the strict dietary habits: “When I started doing this six years back, I used to think that they are going to hate me, I am like a warden that doesn’t eat this, constantly says don’t eat that but now it’s natural. Now there are people like Gurpreet and Sandesh who take it forward.“
Chhetri also sheds some light on how footballers stay in shape despite all the distractions, “Sleep nine hours, it is very easy. You just have to keep your phone outside and sleep and drink a lot of water. These things don’t require brains. These things don’t require hard work. If there is something not to be eaten, do not touch it. It doesn’t require hard work. Just don’t put your hands there. It is that simple and that’s why I demand a high fitness from the boys because it does not demand a lot of effort or brains.“
Asserting his opinion, Sunil continues, “But how you are gonna beat a person in one vs one against Qatar, that requires a brain. How you are going to save a penalty against UAE, for Gurpreet, that requires a lot of brains. And that’s up to him, how much he can achieve. But to do simple stuff to say fit, it’s very easy. It doesn’t require a lot of effort, and it’s a bare minimum demand when you are playing for the country.“
As Chhetri concludes, he offers some encouraging words to aspiring footballers out there: “You have chosen for 1.4 billion people and to do the right, simple stuff is the bare minimum. Simple, straight.“
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