There have been a few reports that have come out this week about the apparent unhappiness of Kansas City’s Indian striker Sunil Chhetri. Press reports likethis one
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have stated that Chhetri is “frustrated at not getting enough opportunities to play in Major League Soccer” and “desperate to leave” Kansas City.
Is there any fire behind that smoke? Uh, not really.
According to the Kansas City Wizards and Chhetri’s agent, Yogesh Joshee, those are false alarms.*
Rob Thomson, vice president of communications for the Wizards, read me a statement he received from Joshee:
”I’ve spoken to Sunil, (and he) has informed me that he is very happy and settled at the club. He has assured me that everyone there has been supportive from the first day he arrived and he has every intention to work hard for his team.”
The impetus behind these reports appears to be the All Indian Football Federation’s request to have Indian national team players participate in a preparatory camp for the Asian Cup in January. According to The Telegraph:
“Chetri has called up the national coach Bob Houghton and has requested him to ask the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to get him released from the US club so that he can join the Asian Cup preparatory camp immediately,” said the source. Houghton has already asked the AIFF to try to get the ace striker back as soon as possible.
Though, while there is some truth to the request to go to the camp, Joshee’s statement puts things in a different light.
”The situation is this: The AIFF approached me to see if they could get the services of Sunil Chhetri for the national camp as all the other national team players were granted leave from their respective clubs on a ‘loan’ deal as the AIFF was paying their wages.
After initial discussion with the Wizards, I have informed the AIFF there were chances of this happening and the Kansas City Wizards were willing to cooperate with India and the national team. I’m not sure where India press has got these reports but there seem to be a lot of assumptions in their reports instead of facts.”
Thomson told me in a phone interview that Chhetri hasn’t spoken to anyone about this. Kansas City also hasn’t ruled out letting Chhetri participate in the national team camp, but Thomson says that, at this point, no decision has been made.
I understand that Chhetri is big news back in India and they are probably justifiably frustrated that he isn’t garnering more first-team football. After all, how can India hope to compete in the Asian Cup when their best scorer and only player based overseas isn't game fit?
Here’s the reality: He’s playing in a new country, in a new system and in a new league for the first time in his life this season. He’s a small guy (if he’s 5’7” I’d be shocked; he’s more like 5’5”) and is moving to a very physical league and trying to play in a formation that he’s completely not used too. (It’s also likely that his potential playing time has been swallowed up by the coaching staff trying to pull the team out of a months-long funk in league play.)
If he’s going to play central forward, he’s behind Teal Bunbury (who is more MLS ready by miles) and Josh Wolff (who has seniority). If he’s going to be play as an advanced midfielder, he’s behind Davy Arnaud (the team’s captain) and Graham Zusi (who is flexible across midfield and has a year under his belt already).
But the good news it that he’s just days out from his first in-game action since the U.S. Open Cup in May, and it came during a game against the world’s richest team, Manchester United.*It’s worth noting that in a game that allowed for “unlimited” substitutions, Wizards coach Peter Vermes only used “seven” and left Josh Wolff and Birahim Diop on the bench. He didn’t even register Jamar Beasley or Santiago Hirisg for the game. We can discuss those decisions at another time.
I understand the impatience of India, but the team is content to move along at this pace with him for now. But contrary to what you read, there is no plan for him (or the team) to move on at this point.