“Eat like a caveman”: Sunil Chhetri’s advice to a young Sandesh Jhingan

Sandesh Jhingan and Sunil Chhetri
Sandesh Jhingan and Sunil Chhetri (PC: Sandesh Jhingan Insta)

Sunil Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan were teammates with the Indian national team for over a decade. They also played alongside each other at Bengaluru FC. After Chhetri announced that the World Cup qualifier against Kuwait would be his last game for the Blue Tigers, Jhingan spoke to Boria Majumdar, RevSportz editor-in-chief, about how much his captain would be missed, and of the legacy he leaves behind.

Boria: I have done many interviews with Sandesh Jhingan. I want to put that on record first. But this is very different. So firstly, grateful, Sandesh, for joining me. When was the first time that you met Sunil and can you tell me about your first interaction?

Jhingan: Firstly, thanks for having me on this show, and I would always love to talk about such legends. I just spoke to him and a few hours ago when he said to me that [he was retiring]. I did not check on Twitter, so I did not know. So, I was just blown away and could not believe it. It was just like a big shock. I was at the rehab centre and I was doing my exercise and just could not believe it. But that’s how life is, I think.

The first time I met him personally was in 2013 in Pune. It was when I joined the national senior team, but I personally felt that I always knew him from before, because when we were kids, we had his posters on the wall. We’d carry the small newspaper cuttings, put them in the notebook.

So, from then, to meeting him finally in 2013, I was speechless. I just could not believe it to be honest. When I met him, I touched him and started training with him. I’ll always have great memories of playing with him.

Boria: You must share some because, our memories of Sunil and yours will be very different. Give us some insights that we do not know.

Jhingan: First thing people do not know because he is always very serious and perfect, but he is a very funny guy. So, when we are at the dining table or when we are just chilling here and there, he is the funniest guy and so sharp, so sarcastic. So, that is one thing which I think a lot of people do not know.

Every camp, when we start, we always do a meeting. He calls everyone together before every camp. Even today, I think they did. And every time he calls the team together, he shares his ideas, he shares his opinion. How are we going to go ahead in this camp? But some people are born with it. When they speak, it motivates you, makes you want to aim higher, and do something great.

So, he has that in his words, and the way he speaks is just massive. If you ask about pre-match talks or pre-camp or when we come into the camp, his involvement in the national team, even when there are no games… we always have this group and he is the most active in that. Be it what the boys are eating, how they are training, he keeps talking to the lads regarding how they are doing in the ISL.

So, he is not someone you only see in the national team or if he is in a club. He is involved 365 days a year with everyone, be it if you only had one camp with him or if you’ve been together for a decade now.

I just tweeted right now, once in every century, legends, or demigods like him, are born. So, we were very blessed that God chose India to have Sunil Chhetri and what he has done is just incredible. I am sure, going ahead, he is going to do even more.

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Boria: Is it about discipline, Sandesh? When he tells me: I do not eat what I like, I eat what I need, and I am like: what are you talking about? And he says: Look, I might not be as talented as Messi or Ronaldo, but I can work harder than them. Working harder is in my hands. I can work harder than them.

Jhingan: I do not know about Messi or Ronaldo, only saw them on television. But I have played with some top players in the ISL and the national team. I have never seen someone so talented with the ball. There is a very fine saying, when you see a player playing a match, you understand his greatness, but when you train with him every day, you actually understand how good that person is, and that is what I felt.

Paaji in training, he will do some certain things that, you will be like: is it possible you can do this with the ball? Anything he can do with the ball it is a joke. So, in terms of talent, I have never seen anyone more talented. And about the discipline, I still remember we were in Siliguri, maybe we were playing and it was the final game for Wim Koevermans as he was going to step down as a head coach.

He told me in the bus: Hey kid, you are the prodigy. And I did not know the meaning of the word back then. I was like: what does it mean? And he said: you are the future of this country. And I was like: I did not even make my debut. But he said: I see something in you. I was like: okay. And then he said: eat like a caveman.

That is one of his first lessons and I was like: how is it, Paaji? We saw the way he ate, he literally ate like a caveman, nothing cooked. I do not know how he does it, but the same discipline for 10 years. I have missed my bus sometimes. I have gone here and there. Especially when a tournament ends, I would like to have some foods which I missed, which I crave, but this guy never stops.

It is just like he dedicated his whole existence for the betterment, for the glory for our country. I think discipline is a small word. As I said, people like him are not often born.

Boria: But you said he is witty and funny. You must tell me one story, because that is not something we associate with him.

Jhingan: It is hard to pick a story right now. It is just the way he tells stories. When he starts talking, suddenly there are one, two guys with him, then six or seven will come, because it is just so funny.

And the way narrates the whole scene, how it happened – he is someone who can just make 10 or 15 guys sit down. That is what happens in the camp. When everyone is done with the food, he just starts telling stories. That is one of the things I am going to miss so much – 10 to 15 guys sitting there, listening to his stories. Every now and then, he picks on some of the younger lads, or me and Gurpreet [Sandhu]. To make fun of how we were when we came into the squad.

Boria: Your favourite Sunil Chhetri moment. Any goal that you remember? Any match?

Jhingan: The Final of Challenge Cup when he scored those bangers. I was in Chandigarh when we qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup. In the final, when he scored those goals, it was rainy. We were back in Chandigarh. Me and my friends dreaming that one day, we will get to meet him.

Sunil Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan
Sunil Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan (PC: Sandesh Jhingan Insta)

Boria: June 6, are you coming to Kolkata to witness Sunil?

Jhingan: Of course, I will be there. I want to be there now especially after knowing this, that my captain is going to retire from international duty. I wish I could have been on the pitch. That is what we spoke last time on the phone.

I said: hey, you cannot retire. I need to be on the pitch, you know. But that is God’s will. So, I cannot be there. But of course, from the stands. And for the country, it is a big game also. I know the emotion around it.

We are playing Kuwait and we need to beat them. To send off our captain, the best way would be to qualify for the next round.

Boria: What was he like to defend against?

Jhingan: He is irritating to play against. Small nudges, and when you go in there, he just hit his glutes on you. It is very tough to play against him. He is so smart. I take a lot of pride in the way I position myself. I take a lot of pride in my jump or the way I defend. And I am not being arrogant.

But when you play against him, you feel that he is always a step ahead. So, you just have to be way too much on top of your game. Push it to your limits. I read a play two or three passes before, But he has read it four passes before, and then you have to think a little bit more ahead.

So, it is like a chess game playing against him because he is too smart. When it comes to the physical side, for his size, he can jump over a mountain

Boria: When you talked about it two or three hours ago with him, tell me about that..

Jhingan: I was shocked. I just said that I am not believing it, and he said it is announced already, done. I still do not want to believe it. I got a little bit emotional. It was a tough one. Honestly, I was not expecting it. But that is life, and we must celebrate the career he had. It is the stuff of dreams.

Magnificent. I hope on the 6th of June, the whole country turns up and we all celebrate such a great. I have kept on hearing this since I made my debut – Who will replace him? I was like: you guys are dumb. You know, if you keep saying this, when it ends, you all will be going on YouTube and trying to find his videos and find his goals.

So here you are, everyone. The day has come. But, what a career! What a legend! What a legacy! He is immortal for this country, and for this sport. This guy’s name will forever be written with golden words. The man who made a difference, the man who inspired a nation of 1.4 billion.

Also Read: Legend Sunil Chhetri breaks a billion hearts as he says goodbye