New Delhi: Sunil Chhetri spoke about the importance of the smaller clubs in Indian football and the need to take them into account when taking the next steps for the sport in the country.

Chhetri, India’s record goal-scorer and highest capped international player was asked about the outrage over the non-broadcast of the I-League and the threat to the existence of the clubs.

“Shillong Lajong is a brilliant example of a club which produces so many talents. It takes money, hard work to bring a club up, to make it run. I never wish that a club would shut down. I hope the stakeholders who are taking the decisions will take into account these clubs when it comes to making plans,” said Chhetri at a Football Delhi event.

Delhi’s football body had earlier declared Chhetri’s birthday as Football Delhi day as the Bengaluru captain had started his career in the capital for City FC. Chhetri had also played for Delhi in the Santosh Trophy.

“Congratulations on Delhi on winning and qualifying for the Santosh Trophy knock-outs. I’ve played here, so I know how difficult it is,” said Chhetri for the current iteration of the state team that won three matches in the North Zone to make it to the final round of India’s premier inter-state competition.

Chhetri stated that he was likely to be on the bench for the Indian Super League encounter against Delhi Dynamos. Bengaluru are on the cusp of reaching the ISL play-offs and lead their closest rivals FC Goa by three points. As such, Chhetri can be rested with Venezuelan striker Miku still working his way back to full fitness.

He re-iterated his stance on the need to re-think the Asian club slot allocations for the ISL that he had first stated in a video on Twitter. “I did it not because I am a Bengaluru player. I did it because I care about Indian football. You play 18 weeks to win the league, and the league winners should be rewarded,” Chhetri said.

Re-living his days of playing football in the capital, Chhetri stated, “Stadiums were packed when I played here. When the national team played at the Ambedkar, we would get the feeling that the stadium was packed.”

He challenged Football Delhi to create better players and come up with good teams. “You want people to dynamically get involved. Every capital in the world have the best teams. So everyone’s asking why not here? This should be the hub, where better players should be created, even better players than Sunil Chhetri. If you have issues, come together and talk. When you talk, ideas come up,” he said.

Shaji Prabhakaran, the president of Football Delhi also spoke about the association and the Delhi Dynamos, the “biggest club in Delhi”, needed to play a larger part in getting crowds to the stadia.

“It’s a collective responsibility. We are thinking about creating community-wise clubs and creating local fan support in particular areas so that people can support the clubs that are closest to their houses,” said Prabhakaran.

Prabhakaran, earlier involved with the national team, stated that he had spoken with Sukhwinder Singh, the first men’s team head coach to call up Chhetri. Prabhakaran said that Singh had seen a spark in Chhetri and had spoken about the “talent in the young boy.”

Chhetri also said that India needed to capitalise on their momentum from the Asian Cup. “Everyone watched us in UAE, and we need to create a system where we can create players, identify them at the right time, give them the right nourishment and make better players,” he stressed that this was the right moment for Indian football to make long-term plans.

He also spoke to parents to support their children through football education. “I used to bunk classes, I was lazy, I was ugly, it was only football. My parents supported me. Even now, they eat what I eat because they don’t want me to feel left out. Let your children dream,” he stated to parents gathered there.