The year was 2005, Baichung Bhutia was at his peak for the Indian Football Team and a 5″7′ young bloke got his debut alongside him, the player had potential and the same was displayed with a goal in his debut match against Pakistan its been 15 years since then and the young bloke has now 115 caps for India scoring 72 goals in that time span. Football in India is not considered a well to do sport, however, in the year 2015 an Indian Footballer was signed by Mumbai FC for a hefty 1.2 crores for his services, the footballer in both the events was none other than the Indian Football Team captain Sunil Chhetri. There is no other footballer in India who has scored as many goals for the national side, in fact, he is the second-highest active goalscorer in the world in international football only behind Cristiano Ronaldo. Not many football fans in India watch the national side play, but the ones who do have seen the killer instincts of Sunil Chhetri who as a striker is very similar to the likes of Lewandowski or Suarez. His off the ball movement and his ability to exploit the free space makes him a goal-hungry striker.
Sunil Chhetri started his professional footballing career at Mohun Bagan followed by several stints at clubs like Kansas City, Sporting Clube de Portugal B, and few others. When he got a call for Mohun Bagan Sunil was still a 17-year-old kid and was there in the facility for a week. After a period of one week, he was asked to call his father as he was still a minor and couldn’t sign the professional contract. Sunil had got an offer from Queen Park Ranger and everything materialized but the spoilsport was the denial of work visa by FA due to the policy which allowed players from the top 70 international teams to play in the 2nd division.
After his failed transfer he got an opportunity to play for Sporting Lisbon B team with a three-year contract, the team had Eric, Bruma and Joao Mario were all playing for the B team then. With very less opportunity at the playing time Sunil asked the management to release him, the meeting was a success and Sunil was released from the contract. Currently playing his club football in the ISL for the Bengaluru FC alongside the national team Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the side won the ISL title in the year 2018-19. Sunil Chhetri has also won the I-LEAGUE title twice in the year 2013-14 and 2015-16 for the Bengaluru side. Sunil Chhetri has won the I-LEAGUE title for Dempo in 2009-10 scoring 8 goals in 13 appearances and for Churchill Brothers in 2012-13 scoring 4 goals in 8 appearances. Sunil Chhetri has been the torchbearer of football in India for the last decade and on June 2018, he posted a video on his social media handle he urged the people to support the national team in the stadiums, even asking them to “abuse” and “criticize” the side. Following the video, the stadium was sold-out and Chhetri marked the occasion with a brace in 3-0 victory.
The legacy that the Captain Fantastic will leave will be that of hard work and perseverance, a player even at 34 performing at the top level as per Indian standard is exceptional and therefore attracts comparisons with the likes of Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic. Even though the Indian league is not as competitive as the European leagues but it is one of the best in the Asian circuit. Albert Roca, former coach Bengaluru FC says “He wants to stay just a little longer after trainings and even returns early from holidays.”
The reason for his fitness and long career is his choice to make sure he maintains a diet that can help him in longevity, eliminating sugar intakes from his diet is one such step. With a career laden with trophies and accolades the Bengaluru FC striker has also been awarded the highest sporting award in India known as Arjun Award and fourth highest civilian award the Padma Shri in the year 2011 and 2019 respectively. An inspiration for the budding Indian footballers Sunil Chhetri has proven his worth and importance throughout the years, at a time when it seemed impossible for anyone to take Baichung Bhutia’s place it was Sunil Chhetri who not only took the burden on his shoulder but surpassed Baichung in every aspect of the game. The speed of the game and the infrastructural backing and the fan following have all improved in the last decade or two and Sunil Chhetri has experienced it all from the center of the Field, Congratulations Sunil Chhetri on completing 15 years of International Football and many more to come.
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