India need to play against top teams to improve football standards: Nicolas Anelka

Mumbai, Aug 23 (IANS) Indian Super League (ISL) franchise Mumbai City FC’s marquee player-cum-manager, former French international Nicolas Anelka, believes the Indian team must play against top footballing nations to improve its standard and evaluate its position.

India are ranked a lowly 156th in the global standings. They play 41st positioned Iran in a 2018 World Cup qualifier match in Bengaluru on September 8, having already lost the first two matches in the qualifying group.

“I think Indian players have the technique and skills. It’s all about playing against stronger teams which can help you a lot. By playing against top players and teams you can understand and improve your level and standard,” Anelka told IANS in an interview on the sidelines of Mumbai City FC’s jersey launch by apparel giant Puma here.

“The team against whom India plays matters. I have seen in the ISL training that Indian players have all the skills, technique and physique, but need to play against top teams to know their standard,” he said.

The 36-year-old, who has played for top European clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City, is glad to have Indian national team captain and India’s all-time top goal scorer Sunil Chhetri in the Mumbai squad.

“I have seen some videos of Sunil. He is a good player. He can score for the team; so it’s good to have him in the team. It is good for the fans and everyone out here. We needed some top player like Sunil and I am glad to include him in our squad. I am sure he will help us a lot,” he said.

In the 2014 season, Mumbai finished second from bottom in the eight-team ISL. But the marquee player-cum-manager said he is looking forward to an improved performance with a quality squad this time.

“Last season was a bit difficult because it was new for all of us, all new players and everything. We have jotted down what went wrong last season. We are focussing now this season to do better things,” he said.

“The main focus this season will be to choose the right and strongest players. I think this season we have a better and strong squad and we want to do better. We have a few players who have played last season and are used to the conditions and the league,” the striker said.

Last year, he featured for Mumbai purely as a footballer but this year he has taken up the additional duties of managing the squad.

Speaking about his new dual role, he said, “As a player-cum-manager I will speak to my boys a lot more this season. Last season I was just a player and this season I am a player-cum-manager. Nothing will change; I will remain the same as player and as manager.”

The 36-year said the advent of ISL will positively turnaround Indian football as the young players are getting to train and learn a lot from the superior foreign players.

“ISL is definitely good for Indian football. The young players will learn a lot from the foreigner players. I think India will progress with ISL here and I hope India will rank well in the FIFA and may be qualify for the World Cup,” he said.

The Frenchman believes defending champions Chelsea and Manchester City are favourites to win the English Premier League this season.

“I think Chelsea and Manchester City are favourite this season. Chelsea didn’t start well but you never know in football what may happen later. City has a good squad,” Anelka concluded.

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