Sunil Chhetri Calls for Respectful Fan Engagement Amidst Criticism

Igor Stimac and Sunil Chhetri at the Matchday minus 1 press conference of the India v Afghanistan match (Image: Snehasis Mukherjee)

Fans are the lifeblood of any sport, and especially so when it comes to football in India. In a cricket-loving country, the Blue Tigers have always tried to make a mark and attract fans towards game. A few years back, on the eve of his 100th cap, a video went viral where skipper Sunil Chhetri was seen requesting fans to be present at the stadium in order to support and motivate them.

Since then, the fans or the Blue Pilgrims have always tried to attend most of the international games, whether it is a friendly or a competitive match, to support and back the team. The team produced some excellent results in 2023 to return the favour. Three trophies in a year was not a fluke. Under Igor Stimac’s guidance and Chhetri’s leadership, this team have always looked to give their best on the field.

But, just like every other sport, every team goes through a bad patch of form. During that period, despite their best efforts, they fail to win games and face some horrible, shocking defeats. After bagging three trophies last year, all Indian fans were hoping for more glory. Though the Blue Tigers failed to win both the Merdeka Tournament and Kings Cup, their intensity and effort were appreciated by fans. And the disappointment disappeared when they registered a historic triumph against Kuwait in Kuwait in their first FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifier.   

Then, when things were looking smooth for the team, fans were left stunned as Qatar defeated them 3-0 in India. After that, the AFC Asian Cup came along, where they faced higher-ranked teams like Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria and lost all three matches. In their most recent outing, India faced an inexperienced or second-string Afghanistan side. Still, they could only manage a 0-0 draw. Interestingly, in these last five games, they failed to score a single goal.

After that shocking display against the Lions of Khorasan, fans went berserk and shared their disappointment on social media. ‘Go Back Stimac’ slogans were written, while questions were raised about many players and the criteria to get selected in the team. But what made it worse was the usage of abusive language. These players might be struggling to produce the results that fans expect from them. But that does not give anyone the right to abuse their family members.

Today, India face Afghanistan in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Guwahati. On March 25, both coach and skipper attended the press conference and spoke about the support of the fans. It is going to be a special occasion for Chhetri, as he is set to play his 150th international game for India. That is a huge milestone for any football player, especially from an Asian country. But what made the headlines was that Chhetri clearly said that all opinions related to the game and any player’s performance were welcome, but abusive language was not. They expect fans to be vocal, as they are coming out to support them, but there must be a proper way.

In reply to a question related to fans and social media, Chhetri said: “Because of the popularity of social media, you cannot ignore the fact that people speak, and they have opinions. That is all right, you won’t read too much about it. You hope to give your best in the ground. Someday, you might lose, someday you might be bad also, just accept it and improve. Not because people are speaking about it, but because you need to.

“There is no other excuse. Whatever it is, you want to be good. But don’t give too much attention on the opinions, because it’s not going to help you. It never ends, it never helps you on the pitch. That’s the way probably. I respect opinions. The fans will keep doing that, you are putting your energy and watching our game, do it. You want to abuse, that is your energy, but do not say things that are wrong.”


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