India women’s football team goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan said she wants to emulate talismanic men’s captain Sunil Chhetri in keeping herself fit and inspiring young players. Chauhan, 27, admitted she was lacking consistency in her efforts regarding strength and physical conditioning but has realised that she needs to pay more attention to it.
“Sunil Chhetri is leading by example (by keeping super fit) and he is an idol for all of us. Being a senior player in the women’s national team and somebody whom youngsters look up to, I also want to keep myself fit and inspire others,” she said during an Instagram chat with AIFF TV.
Chauhan had become the first India woman player to play competitive football in England - though not the top tier - when she was with London-based West Ham Ladies from 2015 to 2018.
Asked if she was now paying more attention to keeping herself fitter, Chauhan said: “I used to play a lot of sport and I have got natural strength. So, the physical strength is always there. But what I have struggled in these 10-12 years of my career has been the lack of consistency in (following) this fitness regime. But in the last two years and especially after my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) tear I realise how important it is to maintain fitness.”
The Delhi girl said she did not even think of playing for the country when she chose to pursue football. “During my childhood, I played all kinds of sports. I am a black belt in karate, have played at district level in basketball, then I was in athletics,” she said. “I started very late in football, my first competitive match was when I was 16.”
She recalled how she got into football and goalkeeping on the insistence of her coach. “I went for a football trial and my coach told me to play as a goalkeeper as I had played basketball and so will have hand-eye coordination. I was selected as the third goalkeeper in Delhi team for the Nationals in Pondicherry,” she said.
“I was excited more for the travelling part to Pondicherry than the actual selection. But I got some minutes as goalkeeper in the Nationals, I came to realise that football can be my sport to pursue. I never thought I would play for the country one day.”
Chauhan, a fan of German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, said that the national team players were excited to play in the AFC Asian Cup to be hosted by India in 2022. “It will be a huge tournament for us. It will give us the platform to play against the best in Asia. Everybody is pumped up to play in the tournament,” she said.
Chauhan also said that FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, to be held in India in February-March next year, will leave a huge legacy in women’s football in the country. “The players who will play in that tournament will be the future senior national team players. Just like the men’s U-17 World Cup in 2017 had done, the women’s event will bring more awareness in the country about women’s football,” she pointed out.
“More parents will begin to encourage their daughters to take up football and that will be the legacy of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup,” she added.
(With PTI inputs)