Decision to retire came instinctively: Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri
Sunil Chhetri acknowledges the fans after winning the SAFF Championship 2023. File photo: PTI/Shailendra Bhojak

New Delhi: Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri on Friday said his decision to retire after next month's World Cup qualifier against Kuwait was driven by instinct and he would like to take a "sabbatical" after completing his obligations in the domestic circuit.

Chhetri, 39, announced his decision to retire from international football after the FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Kuwait on June 6, bringing the curtains down on a 19-year career during which he became India's top goal-scorer with 94 strikes. He will leave the scene as India's most-capped player.

"The retirement decision was not because of physical aspect, I am still fit, running, chasing, defending, the hard work is not difficult, the reason is to do with mental aspect," said Chhetri during a virtual interaction without elaborating on the issue of mental health that has become a major concern among professional sportspersons across disciplines.

"I was fighting with myself, trying to think holistically, it came instinctively. One year I will be in Bengaluru FC, I don't know how long I will be playing (domestic football), after that I want to take a sabbatical," he added.

Asked if he would consider coaching after the end of playing career, Chhetri said, "I will not say never, I will think during my sabbatical but it's not very high on my agenda as of now."

Chhetri's contract with the Indian Super League side is till next year.

The iconic player, who has been the flagbearer of Indian football after the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia call it a day, added that he had consulted India coach Igor Stimac before announcing his sdecision.

"When I went to Stimac and told him about my retirement decision, he understood it," he said.

Another person he spoke with was star Indian cricketer Virat Kohli.

"He is very close to me, understands me," Chhetri said.

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