Chhetri throws weight behind unified Indian league

New Delhi: Amid uncertainty over the proposed merger of Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League, India striker Sunil Chhetri on Tuesday said a unified league will open up windows for the national team to play in more FIFA friendlies and give a shot at improving its ranking.

"I want to play all 13 FIFA dates in a year. We need that. That's where the unified league is going to come in handy. We should prioritise that, and ensure the national team gets a chance to play more games. I hope we play bigger opponents away from home as we have done really poorly away. Win or lose, that will at least give us a chance to improve as a footballing nation," Chhetri said.

"Who would not like to see a merger? One league with more teams, more months is what we all wish for. There are a few technicalities and I am sure they are looking into. Eventually we will see one league. A unified league."

Having won the SAFF Championship with the national team, reaching a historic AFC Cup final with Bengaluru FC and semifinal in ISL with Mumbai City FC, Chhetri called 2016 his finest year.

"You can say that 2016 was my finest. It went well for the national team, started by winning the SAFF Cup, we reached the finals of AFC Cup, we reached the semis of ISL. I think it was a fruitful season," Chhetri said.

"I have very small time targets, say 10 days, one week. I am only thinking about the Lajong (I-league) game, we are playing them at home. That's my target."

Asked if Indian players should strive to play club football overseas, Chhetri said, "If the players have reached a certain level and he thinks he can improve more, then he should. Not only in India it's everywhere. Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu, in Norway) has done it very nicely, I have seen him grow up."

When told about Praful Patel's desire for India to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, he said, "I think we have to come in the top 10 in Asia first. It is going to be so, so difficult. Thailand was with us but now they are playing in the last qualifying round though they are getting hammered by some teams. We have to qualify for the Asia Cup and stay there, try to get to 15th, 16th position in Asia and then think about the final journey."

Asked if Indian football should take a leaf out of Bengaluru FC's book -- they have won two I-league titles and one Federation Cup since making their debut three seasons ago, Chhetri said, "We are doing the right things, trying our best, all of us are in sync, from owner Sajjan Jindal to the ball boy."