Former India coach Sukhwinder Singh, who gave Sunil Chhetri his international debut away to Pakistan, recalls having doubts over whether the current captain could hack it at international level.
Chhetri was handed his debut because then-captain Bhaichung Bhutia was unavailable for the tournament due to an injury but Sukhwinder admitted that Chhetri was not his first option at the time.
"It was a nightmare for me that Bhaichung wasn’t available. It was in Pakistan, and I knew the pressure would be immense. I needed someone who had the trickery, didn't have any fear, and had to be quick," he told the AIFF's official website.
"To be honest, Sunil wasn’t in my mind at all. He wasn’t my first option. I looked around and wondered as to who could fill in the vacuum.
"It was then I thought about him. But I had my doubts. He was short, and in front of physically strong defenders at the international level, did he have a chance?
“But I knew him. He played under my coaching in JCT and he had shown promises of what he could do on the field. So I backed my coaching instincts and put him in. And he didn’t fail me.
Chhetri would go on to score a goal on debut despite carrying a slight injury and not being fully fit. Shanmugam Venkatesh, who was the captain when Chhetri made his debut, said that he knew early on that the talismanic striker was destined for greatnesss.
"Sunil had come into the camp after a great season with JCT. On the first day I saw him going on and on after the training - practicing free-kicks, and penalties after everyone was done. I walked up to him, saw him from close, and even joked: 'Itna practice mat kar' (Don't practice so much).
"Sunil had a clear vision even during his early days. He was sure of what he wanted to do, and achieve. The things he has been doing for the last 15 years is a result of this vision.
"I remember watching him train and thinking to myself that whether we have found our next striker after Vijayan and Bhaichung. But I never told him that. That may have made him complacent.
“Completing 15 years at the international level is a great achievement. All the credit goes to him and none else. I will never use the word lucky for him - it's all for his hard work."