Udaipur: Famous for his strict diet regimen and extreme level of fitness, Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri was visiting the Zinc Football Academy in Zawar, Udaipur, where he met some budding footballers and advised them about the importance of nutrition in an athlete's life.
Chhetri, who much like his cricketing counterpart Virat Kohli, is a champion of clean eating, had a piece of advice for everyone: "If you eat well and sleep well, your life will change. That's my free advice."
The 34-year-old record goalscorer for India also recently turned vegan to enhance his fitness levels, feels that sleep and nutrition are pivotal to his success as a professional footballer.
"Food is magic. In my 17 years of experience, I've realized that food is the main thing. When you change the way you eat and have what your body needs, magic happens. You become a different person. It makes you happy. Food actually changes your body. The way you think and how sharp you are depends on what you eat. I sleep well and I eat well, that's what I do. My wife and my sister take care of everything, my job is to only sleep well, eat right and play a sport that I love. ", he said.
Chhetri spent a lot of time with the young footballers and advised them about certain dos and don'ts of nutrition. When spoken to later, a 14-year-old midfielder, Mohammad Kaif said Chhetri had told them to increase the intake of greens and cut down on masalas.
When asked about his interaction with the kids, Chhetri said, "They are very excited. One good thing is that they appreciate the atmosphere created here. They don't take it for granted, which is very good. They understand that this is not normal and common, not just in Rajasthan but around the country."
He also hailed the academy's proprietary football technology, F-Cube, saying, "There's a scientific passing drill for the kids here. I can't remember where I've seen this in India. There's one in (Borussia) Dortmund. It sounds very exciting and promising."
The Indian captain was highly impressed by the academy's infrastructure and drew a comparison to the facilities available during his growing days.
"There's a huge difference between when I started playing and now. There's an organized structure here. In my early playing days, we did not have access to such facilities. There are three 5-a-side pitches, one 9-a-side natural grass pitch, an in-house academy, and a stadium. There aren't a lot of places in India with such facilities, let alone Rajasthan."
When quizzed about Indian football's ground-level growth, India's record cap-holder said, "The way grass-root football is improving in our country is really good, and not just at the grass-root level, the overall development of Indian football has been really good. However, we want to reach the top-10 nations in Asia and stay there, but sadly we are still a long way away from that. No matter, how fast we improve, the improvement seems slower as compared to other big Asian footballing nations. We just need to keep our heads down and keep improving."
However, he was quick to add that Indian football's development is on the right track, "Where we want to reach is still far away but we're on the right track and players like Amarjeet Kiyam and Narinder Gahlot coming in and doing well, really gives you hope. It's not every day that two young kids from the under-17 setup break into the national team. I think it's promising and I hope things like these keep happening."
In the end, the Indian skipper stressed that the nation's scouting structure needs improvement, saying, "It's better now. It's not great and not just in football but in all sports, identification of talent is crucial. I think this is where we lack. I mean 1.3 billion people and not much talent in every sport, it's impossible. I think that's where we can improve and I'm sure we'll do that. I met a few boys here and they are so good. There are so many kids who want to break in the Indian team and want to do well. So, it's important to identify them at the right time and give them the right guidance and education, and things can happen."