Former Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia, who was the first footballer of the country to play 100 international matches, believes India has found its Cristiano Ronaldo in Sunil Chhetri.
Lauding the current Indian football team captain Chhetri for his professionalism, Bhaichung says Ronaldo and Chhetri's work ethic and their hunger to do well at the sport's grandest stage is simply incomparable.
In 2005, when Chhetri made his national team debut, Bhaichung was the team's captain. Hence, he had an opportunity to observe Chhetri from close quarters.
Bhaichung, who would be doing commentary on the upcoming Euro 2020, spoke to Sputnik on Monday about Chhetri's qualities, Ronaldo's potential move back to Manchester United, the impact of ISL and much more.
Sputnik: You share a special bond with Sunil Chhetri. What makes him so special as a player in the team?
Bhaichung Bhutia: I have seen Sunil as a young boy and now as an experienced campaigner. He is like Cristiano Ronaldo, who is a workaholic, who's very professional and maintains his fitness levels very well.
There are a lot of players who can learn from Sunil Chhetri because there are players who are highly gifted, and supremely talented, and there are players who have made it big through sheer hard work, and that is Sunil for you.
He has been one of the greatest examples for Indian footballers to see that you can really achieve what you want to achieve through your dedication, determination and work ethics.
I would say, in terms of his footballing lifestyle, Sunil Chhetri is truly India's Cristiano Ronaldo. Obviously, Ronaldo is a great player, but both Sunil and Ronaldo have become great because they continuously work hard and strive for excellence.
Sputnik: Do you think Indian Super League (ISL) has made a positive impact on Indian football?
Bhaichung Bhutia: ISL definitely has had a very positive impact on Indian football because ISL has brought a lot of corporates into the sport. The fans are now seeing global stars performing in the country, which they would never get to see in the I-League.
At the same time it showcases Indian football to every citizen in India and that is very, very important because when football is being seen, that's how I think a lot of youngsters get motivated to play for the clubs of their own city. ISL is certainly a good thing that has happened to Indian football.
Sputnik: How do we make football a more household game in India as it is in Western countries?
Bhaichung Bhutia: It is extremely challenging to popularize football because India is a cricket-loving nation. It is important that the Indian national team does well internationally, and that's how people connect because you need teams to win and perform.
It is a big challenge because football is the only sport which is played by every country around the world and the kind of interest and investments people have in football in these countries is quite massive.
That's why it becomes very, very difficult to compete and win in Asia to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.
When you have eight-ten teams playing a sport, the chances of you to do well down the line are high. But when you have more than 200 countries playing football, the chances of you to succeed are obviously more difficult.
Sadly, India isn't a sporting nation as such. We need to create that sporting culture to become a footballing giant.
Sputnik: Cristiano Ronaldo may return to Manchester United this season. Do you think he can bring the club's glory days back?
Bhaichung Bhutia: I am not sure if Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford can help United win trophies. It will definitely create a lot of buzz and interest and the fans would really connect with him if he comes back to Old Trafford.
Sputnik: Who do you think is the greatest footballer of all time?
Bhaichung Bhutia: For me, Maradona is the greatest player of all time because he single-handedly won the World Cup, something no player in the world has achieved.
I think Maradona that way definitely stands out. Even though Pele won three World Cups, he had a great team. Maradona, on the other hand, was utterly dominant during his prime and led Argentina to World Cup glory on his own.
Sputnik: Who according to you is the best forward in the world?
Bhaichung Bhutia: Kylian Mbappe looks very, very good right now. Lionel Messi definitely is one of the best players in the world. I think Robert Lewandowski is one of the best strikers in the world, but to say that he is the best, I am not too sure about it right now.
With the Euro 2020 And Copa America starting soon, we will soon get the answer to this question because whosoever does well in these tournaments would surely end this debate.