Former Indian football team coach Sukhwinder Singh said he had doubts about starting a 20-year-old Sunil Chhetri before handing the striker his international debut during a three-match friendly series against Pakistan in 2005.

Singh said he had “sleepless nights” choosing who would lead India’s attack in the opening match after striker Bhaichung Bhutia suffered an injury.

Read - Former Mohun Bagan coach Bhattacharya says he once had doubts over Chhetri’s goal-scoring ability

“It was a nightmare for me that Bhaichung [Bhutia] wasn’t available,” Singh was quoted as saying by the All India Football Federation. “It was in Pakistan, and I knew the pressure would be immense. I needed someone who had the trickery, didn’t have any fear, and had to be quick.”

“To be honest, Sunil wasn’t in my mind at all. He wasn’t my first option. I looked around and wondered as to who could fill in the vacuum. It was then I thought about him. But I had my doubts,” he added.

Since Chhetri had already played under Singh at JCT FC, the Punjab coach decided to hand him his first cap despite the striker’s short frame.

He said: “He was short, and in front of physically strong defenders at the international level, did he have a chance?”

“But I knew him. He played under...

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