India skipper and former Bury FC player Bhutia has some words of caution for star footballer Chetri as he leaves for Coventry on Sunday
A file picture of Sunil Chetri in action for JCT Phagwara against Brazil's Sao Paulo during the Super Soccer Series in February 2007. PIC/AFP
ALL eyes are on Sunil Chetri in Indian football. On Sunday, the East Bengal forward leaves for England to try his luck at Coventry City, which plays in the Football League Championship, the second-highest tier of the English league system.
If he is successful in bagging a contract, he will become the second Indian player to play professional football in England after Bhaichung Bhutia, who turned up for League Two side Bury Football Club.
And, who better to guide Chetri on the challenges facing him than his current India captain. From 1999 to 2002, Bhutia made 37 appearances for Bury.
Bhutia gave the thumbs up to Chetri, best player of the 11th National Football League (2007): "If he becomes a Coventry player, it will be great for Indian football. It will definitely encourage many more players to play in foreign professional leagues,' said the star footballer, who will spearhead the Mohun Bagan attack in their I-League match against Mumbai FC at the Cooperage today.
"You are not going there to learn football, because they have taken you as a professional and you are expected to deliver, but the experience helps you immensely in the long run," said Bhutia.
"England is the biggest place to go and play football with regards to the culture, fans and environment. You actually understand what football is all about."
The Indian captain is hoping that Coventry have already readied a concrete offer for Chetri. "It is not fair to judge a player on the basis of a three-four-day trial. The winter is severe there now and going from here, the player needs time to acclimatise. He cannot be at his best straightaway. They must have seen video footage and kept a concrete offer ready," said Bhutia.
Joining a team mid-season is a great disadvantage. "I only hope he does not face a disaster like I did at Bury.
Everything went wrong for me there. I had to wait three-four months for my work visa. I applied in July and got the visa in October. I was out of football for three months. When I joined the club it was mid-season, the rest of the team was in peak fitness and I was completely behind. It was the start of the peak winter season and I had no time to acclimatise. I was always playing catch-up.
"Then the coach and assistant coach who had signed me, left within one and a half months of my joining. They were the ones who knew where I was (in terms of fitness) and we were working on a schedule accordingly.
Suddenly, there was a new coaching staff, who weren't aware of where I stood. The coaching staff make all the decisions; they decide the team. I missed the support after the coach who signed me was gone. I hope Chetri does not face all this and gets the support of the coaching staff," said Bhutia.
For the Indian skipper, Chetri's advantage is his sincerity and mental strength. His advice is to keep it simple: "I spoke to him and told him not to overdo or under-do anything. Just play your natural game."
If Chetri can hit this goal, it will be more than just a mere shot in the arm for Indian football.