Tale of an Indian Football Legend Sunil Chhetri
Football isn’t exactly considered a popular sport in India. Most of the people, who do follow it, follow the world class clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and so many others. Even the football world cup is only followed by a very minimal set of people who support the countries like Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, Italy, Netherlands, etc.
India has been around the football scene since the British Rule since they introduced the sport to our country. But the popularity for the sport in our country has been waning; only a few states like Kolkata and Kerala support our national team and the clubs wholeheartedly. We would be talking one of the gems of the Indian football who has literally tried his best to bring India at the map of World Football. Throughout his long and illustrious career he has been at the pinnacle in every football match of his, we are talking about the Sunil Chhetri of course.
Sunil Chhetri started his club career for the legendary Mohun Bagan A.C. in 2002. During the 2002-03 season of the Indian National Football League, Chhetri scored 4 goals which in every essence kick-started his career with a bang, Mohun Bagan finished 7th in that season. In 2005-06 season, he signed up with JCT FC (Jagatjit Cotton & Textile Football Club) and scored 3 goals and the finished in the 6th place. But Sunil’s best was yet to come as he scored 11 goals in the 2006-07 season for the JCT and they finished 2nd. Even then he was already being hailed as the most gifted footballer in a long time. He was awarded the Player of the Year Award by the All India Football Federation in 2007.
He played for two more clubs namely Dempo and East Bengal for the subsequent I-League seasons and played really well in both of them. He had become so popular in the domestic circuit that even the international football took notice of him. There were rumours that two of the Major League Soccer Teams who represent the U.S. Soccer were interested in him, but they never worked out. In 2010, he played with the Kansas City Wizards and was officially inducted into their team. The head coach of Wizards, Peter Vermes had nothing but praise for him, he was quoted, “The one thing we really like about Sunil, is that he is a very crafty player. Technically he is very sharp, and he is a guy that has good attacking tendencies. ”The Wizards played against Colorado Rapids but the game didn’t turn out well as they lost 1-2. He also got the opportunity to play a friendly with Manchester United, and the Wizards won 2-1 against them. On 5th February, 2011, Chhetri quit the team as he needed to prepare for 2011 Asian Cup in the Indian National Team. He multiple for multiple clubs afterwards, he signed a 1 year contract with Mohun Bagan again, played for the Sporting Club de Portugal, Churchill Brothers, Bengaluru FC and for Mumbai as well.
Chhetri had made his debut in the Indian National Team in 2004 against Pakistan and they won with 1-0. He scored his first international goal against Pakistan on 2005 plus he scored twice against their following match in Bhutan. Chhetri also played an instrumental role in their 2007 Nehru Cup win over Cambodia, they defeated them 6-0 with Chhetri scoring twice. He also scored a goal with a match against Syria where they were defeated 2-3 and also another goal versus Kyrgyzstan where they won 3-0. They were crowned as the champions of the tournament in that season. Chhetri went on to play the 2008 SAFF Championship which they lost but went on to win the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup where he scored a hat-trick which enabled them to qualify for the Asian Cup 2011 for the first time in 24 years. Chhetri was named the National Team’s captain for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup and he has been going stronger ever since.
On 04th June, 2018, Sunil Chhetri played his 100th international match for India against Kenya which they won 3-0 with the captain scoring twice for them. He has captained India for 41 matches and has scored 61 international goals breaking David Villa’s record for 59 international goals. He is in the 3rd position behind Lionel Messi (64) and Christiano Ronaldo (81). We truly have a legend in the making among us, but still football has been underappreciated by us. Taking an affinity towards the big European clubs is just fine, but when it comes to supporting the international team, our team India, we lack sorely in supporting them. Sunil Chhetri in his video message was evidently disappointed with the turnout of the crowd during that match, but it was a remarkable turnout for this 100th appearance which really made all the difference.
Superstars like Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri are jewels of our country, they have done everything that they can possibly can but the fans also need to reciprocate what they do, we need to support them in every way possible. We at Curling Tale salute your legacy. You are a living legend and inspiration to millions. Your service to the nation will always be remembered. India is now ranked 97 in the International Points Table from FIFA, it’s an honour which is beyond words and we need to appreciate that and support that with our last breath. Thank you Sunil Chhetri for teaching us that….