India football captain Sunil Chhetri today rued that he would "miss" Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC rivalry, one of the talking points of Indian football in the recent past. Chhetri plays as a forward for Bengaluru FC and reminisces the rivalry.
Bengaluru FC are one of the new teams of the fourth edition of Indian Super League, while Maidan heavyweights Mohun Bagan and East Bengal would continue to play in the I- League as the two tournaments will be held simultaneously in the 2017-18 season.
"I will miss them (Mohun Bagan). I'm not trying to hint anything but I loved our game against Mohun Bagan. In last three years the rivalry between Mohun Bagan and BFC is the best thing that has happened," the BFC striker told reporters on the sidelines of the Newtown School's investiture ceremony.
Mohun Bagan and East Bengal remained adamant on their demands to play in the ISL as the talks did not fall through whereas Tata and Bengaluru were unveiled as new franchises.
But Chhetri hoped the two Kolkata heavyweights would be back soon to resume their rivalry.
"It has been really equal. All the games that I think right now were really tough. Be it AFC Cup, I-League or the Federation Cup, all the games against Mohun Bagan has always been tough. We had a great rivalry. I just hope we meet soon," he said.
Chhetri, however, saw a silver lining in both the leagues being held together as it would give Indian players a big opportunity.
"The good part is there will be 20 teams playing at the same time, so more players will get the opportunity, especially the Indians. Last year when both happened differently the same players almost played the ISL and I-League. Now more Indian players will get the opportunity," said Chhetri.
"I want both the leagues to flourish as at the end of the day, you want more Indian players to come in. The problems that some of the players were not employed last year might not happen this time with 20 teams playing simultaneously. "
But he agreed that ultimately a long European style league with about 20 clubs is the way forward.
"I, you and the whole country would prefer that any day.
We are 1.3 billion people. I would love to see 20 (teams) in first, second, third and fourth divisions... I think we can cater to that.
"As a captain of the country, I would like all the players who are good enough should get an opportunity to play."
Chhetri further said he's not happy with playing more than four foreigners as that's the rule in the AFC Cup.
"Eventually I want to see four foreigners. I do not know which league you are talking about. From next year it's going to be four that's what I've been promised.
"It's a simple. You want to win a league or the Federation Cup because you want to compete in the AFC. This is a big price. When you play AFC, you must play by their rules, this is what I feel."
On the back of their fine run with 13 wins from 15 matches, India have achieved 96th place in FIFA rankings, their best-ever FIFA ranking since February 1996.
"I don't take rankings too seriously. For me it's important we win games and important tournaments. We are in between a very important tournament (Asian Cup qualification) and we have won two games, so that's a priority.
"If after three years we still are talking that we are 100 that will be a massive achievement," he said.
India were ranked 171 when Stephen Constantine took over as the coach for his second stint in February 2015.
"When he came in a lot of senior players were leaving football. He had to inculcate a lot of junior ones, he brought a big pool, he saw and chose everyone that he could. I do not want to boast but I think slowly we are clicking. We have a long way to go."
The national team who beat Kyrgyzstan 1-0 in their last match will take on Macau in their next AFC Asian Cup qualifying match on September 5.
"Right now people are thinking we beat Kyrgyzstan, it would be easy against Macau but it's not going to happen that way. It never happens like that. We are not going to be complacent and we will give our best," he said.