Indian defender Pritam Kotal believes that having a strict diet regime is quintessential in maintaining fitness at the highest level, and he looks up to Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli and football captain Sunil Chhetri for the same.

The 27-year-old ATK Mohun Bagan skipper led the rechristened Indian Super League side to the final last season and is currently in the national team’s preparatory camp ahead of India’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

Despite being a regular in the I-League since the 2012-13 season, it was only after the 2015-16 season that Kotal started to take his diet seriously.

“I read about how Virat Kohli approaches his fitness, his training regime, diet, and how he never ever goes against the roadmap laid down by his personal trainer,” Kotal told PTI in an interview.

“Having Sunil-bhai (Chhetri) around helped as with his controlled diet plan, Sunil-bhai’s fitness and performances reached a different level. Both Virat and Sunil-bhai are the pioneers. It’s all about the diet. Even on a vacation, Indian footballers don’t eat anything and everything. We have to make sacrifices.

“The mentality — you are what you eat — has sunk in. So no one gives in to the temptation. I roped in my personal trainer, set up my personal gym at home, and eventually cut my tongue off,” Kotal added.

Despite having more than 30 international caps to his name so far, Kotal’s games with the national team have dried up of late. He has played just eight games since AFC Cup 2019, which includes international friendlies as well.

While Kotal credits it to the increasing competition in the team, the defender also believes that having different tacticians at the helm means players would need to adapt faster.

“Different coaches tend to plan and play football differently. As professional players, it is our responsibility to adapt and (do it) faster. This is healthy competition which we all relish. Competition has improved me as a player,” he explained.

“Longer camps would’ve helped”

In place of the lengthy preparatory camp that was scheduled in Kolkata from May 2, the Indian football players will now have to be content with a two-week camp supposed to be inside a bio-bubble in Qatar.

Kotal pointed out that most players didn’t have any footballing action since the Indian Super League ended in March and that a longer camp would have been better.

“Longer duration camps always help. Most of the boys came from their respective homes where they were in all kind of locked down,” Kotal said.

“Majority of us played our last competitive match almost two months back. So, a longer camp would have helped. But it is what it is,” Kotal told All India Football Federation (AIFF).

India will play all their remaining FIFA World Cup Qualifier matches in Doha, starting with World Cup hosts Qatar on June 3, followed by games against Bangladesh (June 7) and Afghanistan (June 15).

According to reports, the Indian team is also scheduled to play an international friendly against Philippines before they resume their World Cup Qualifiers campaign.

Featured Image: AFP/ Manjunath Kiran