New Delhi: India’s most prolific attacking option, the talismanic Sunil Chhetri, has been ruled out of the international friendly against Jordan and it means coach Stephen Constantine will have to tweak his strategy to ensure a positive result. But while he expects Chhetri to be back in full flow soon, it is the absence or lack of bench strength that is troubling the coach.
“Sunil (Chhetri) missing the clash against Jordan is a very big blow for us. He is a great player and has been fantastic for us in the last four years. He is irreplaceable but somebody has to take his place for the match against Jordan. Sunil is no spring chicken. However this is a great chance for young players to step up and although you cannot find a player of his calibre and class,” Constantine said.
Constantine noted that Indian football lacks quality in terms of forwards and said it is down to the fact that most clubs in the country prefer a more established and proven foreign striker. He further pointed out that the standard and pace of the leagues in India were not up to international standards.
“Players here would much rather play wide right or left back. When it comes to the Indian clubs, 90% of the teams look to sign foreign strikers and as a result, the young Indian footballers tend to avoid playing in that position. As a result, we have a dearth of talent when it comes to the strikers.
“It is a worry for me when my players do not get match time. “The problem is that we do not have many choices in this position and we are desperately trying to get new talent to fill the position," he said.
Realistically, in the absence of India’s leading goalscorer, it will be upto the likes of an out-of-sorts Jeje Lalpekhlua, Balwant Singh and the young Manvir Singh to deliver on Saturday. Sumeet Passi and Farukh Choudhary are the other forwards among the 30 probables.
The team management has also brought in Komal Thatal, the young winger from ATK into the national set-up. When quizzed about whether the youngster was ready to play for the senior team, Constantine shot back saying, “No.”
So far in the Indian Super League, Balwant, Manvir, Passi, Thatal and Farukh have all scored once each while Kerala Blasters forward CK Vineeth (not in the camp for the Jordan friendly) has two goals to his name. Chhetri has scored four times in five appearances, while midfielder Michael Soosairaj has scored thrice and is the second most prolific Indian goal scorer at this point in time in the competition.
"We need to find somebody who will be there when we don't have Sunil. I am trying to cover all the bases and I don't want my best players to remain injured and one of them right now,” he said.
India head to Jordan after having registered a credible goalless draw against China and will play Oman in another friendly in December before heading to the UAE for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
“We want to do well in the games leading up to the Asian Cup and the clash against Jordan will aid us in that as they (Jordan) are a strong side and have a number of good players in their ranks,” Constantine said.
Constantine also added that the team would in all likelihood play another friendly just before the turn of the year before the high-pressure games against Thailand, Bahrain and UAE. The team will travel to UAE with 28 players but five would be excluded from the squad on January 2.
The Indian team coach was also asked about various reports of unrest within the dressing room, which he clarified by saying that they are only a figment of imagination and the recent results prove it.