We look up to footballers for their discipline and fitness: Virat Kohli
Had Virat Kohli not picked up the bat, he could have had an alternative career in football. With his fitness ethic, the India cricket captain has raised the bar for everyone and also made his love for the beautiful game known. In Goa to launch the new home jersey of Indian Super League (ISL) club FC Goa, the co-owner spoke exclusively to TOI on football, fitness and sports in India. Excerpts…
Your focus now remains solely on cricket, but do you see yourself being more involved in football after you retire?
Something I am doing at the moment with my foundation is the athlete development programme. This is a big part of the FC Goa future plans too, with the academy and the structure that we are trying to create. We want to develop players who will play for FC Goa and hopefully go on to represent the national team. Those are things that excite me. Those are things where I would like to spend my energy. I want to not just be seen at the stadium but be at the grassroots level, where I want to make an impact. If the system is in place, the sport is in good state. That’s going to be one of my priorities (after retirement). Football will take a lot of my attention because I am involved with FC Goa, but for sports in general, I want to contribute in such a manner that people benefit at the grassroots.
You are a co-owner at FC Goa since their inception in 2014, making time to watch a few matches. Do you sometimes wish your involvement was bigger?
Of course, purely from the point of view of interacting with the players a lot more. As a sportsperson, I understand the importance. I just wish I could do that on a more regular basis, but when you see FC Goa play the way they have for the last two seasons, it does not make you feel guilty.
What was the thinking behind investing in FC Goa?
The football culture in Goa is amazing. It’s the most important thing for Goans. Cricket is secondary, and that stood out for me. Football is in the blood of Goans. I need to see passion to be involved with something, and the love for football here stood out from day one. You see people play football in every field. I knew this club has the potential to become big, and now with plans for an academy in place, Goa could become the hub of Indian football.
What is your perception about how India looks at sports at the moment?
It’s good (for fans) to be passionate about football, cricket or any sport, but I think there has to be an understanding of sports and how important it is for nation building. I feel a strong nation coincides with a strong sports culture. When people are united, when people are together, they are united for everything. That’s something I really, really want to see in our country. You cannot celebrate sport one day and demolish the next (day). If you don’t understand and if you are not compassionate towards people who are competing, you can never have a sports culture. That is the core problem. When you do well, you are put on cloud nine, and when you don’t, people want to write you off. That’s why sportspersons after a certain stage, detach themselves from any praise or criticism. They know it’s not constructive. It’s very random, you cannot trust it and cannot be dependent on it. That’s where the gap lies. If people come closer, athletes move closer too and that’s when the sports culture is created in general.
Do cricketers take any lessons from footballers?
We always look up to footballers for their discipline. It’s a requirement of the sport that you need to be at your absolute best to be able to take the field. Football players are very particular about professionalism, in terms of physical preparation, nutrition and rest periods. We learn a lot from them.
One thing that differentiates professional footballers and cricketers is the fitness levels. You obviously have set a new benchmark for cricketers with your amazing fitness, but not everyone is in the best of shape. How do you compare the fitness levels?
You cannot compare. I think the only people who can be compared to an extent in terms of endurance are fast bowlers. Cricket is not a sport which requires amazing physical endurance. Football is such a fast game and played within 90 minutes where you have to be absolutely fit to take control of the situation. In cricket, the fitness level requirement is not as high (as football). But if you strive to be as fit as footballers, then you do things at a different level in cricket. That’s what we look forward to. If we take our fitness level higher, we will perform at another level. Footballers are way more fitter than cricketers, that’s one thing I know for sure.
You are among the fittest cricketers. Were you always obsessed with fitness, and how much have you managed to change the perception within Indian cricket?
The idea was how can we be the best team in the world. For that we had to be the fittest. There was no doubt about it. Indian players always had the skill, but I felt other teams were moving in a direction where we were far behind. And if we pulled well enough in terms of physical ability, our ability with our skills is second to none. So, it was just a drive to be the best team in the world. Everyone buys into it and you have seen the results.
In football, you have spoken of your fondness for Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldo The Phenomenon. If you had a choice, who would you pick?
Tough question. But I would say, Cristiano is the most complete player that I have seen. Whether it’s the left foot, right foot, speed or dribbling skills, he’s amazing. I have not seen a better goal scorer. (Ronaldo) The Phenomenon , on the other hand, was something else. He revolutionised the sport and everyone followed him. His place is special, but if I had to take only one in my team who will give energy and intensity, it’s Cristiano.
Would you prefer him over Lionel Messi?
It’s a personal preference. Messi is a freak, absolute natural talent, and his ability is second to none. For me, what stands out is the ability or the will to put in the effort in every single minute of the game. Ronaldo’s drive separates him from everyone else. Playing at the top level, everyone has talent, but I don’t think anyone has the will that he has.
You won a World Cup at 22, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, two of the best footballers in the world, have struggled on the biggest stage. Does that make their careers any less successful?
When people are on top for so long, you will want some kind of issue to debate about. Important trophies are something that people remember for a long time, but that does not mean that the other games you play are not important. If you win the football World Cup, it does not mean you can rest on that and not score (again). Cristiano and Messi are both amazing and it’s great to see them set the bar so high.