Sunil Chhetri: The face of Indian football

Photo: AIFF
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In a Cricket fanatic nation like India where the sport is literally worshipped as a religion all over the country and where other sports are pretty much neglected and left out, football is the one that has finally started to regain its stature back to where it once belonged. This has largely to do with the resurgence of the present Indian football team as they climbed up to 96th position in the latest released Fifa rankings ( India has won all of their last 8 matches since June last year). This has been quite a feat worth achieving as the team had been stuck to that 140-150 mark for nearly more than two decades.

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One man who has seen it all and was the most vital cog behind this stunning transformation is the current skipper of Indian football team Sunil Chhetri. He is on par with the likes of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and many others in terms of being a sporting icon. Taking the reigns from Baichung Bhutia he has done really wonders with a young but hugely talented side at his disposal, obviously under the proper guidance of coach Stephen Constantine. To break out into the top 100’s was probably a distant dream for every Indian and to make it a reality is really commendable. With an envious record of 54 goals from 94 appearances making him the highest goalscorer and the most capped player in the country. Starting his career with Mohun Bagan and then moving onto the likes of JCT, Dempo, Kingfisher East Bengal and eventually settling down to Bengaluru FC Chhetri has been quite a traveller.

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He also experienced global ventures with the likes of Kansas City Wizards (Major League Soccer), Sporting Clube De Portugal (he played for the club’s reserve side) and thus reaping its rewards now. That is why he himself recommends foreign exposure to every budding young player in the country (Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Lalinzuala Chhangte are the ones to follow his footsteps).

Having already featured in the elite list of players who have scored the most number of goals for the country (Chhetri was included alongside Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) the latest feather added to his crown was the honour of finding himself on the cover page of the esteemed magazine AFC Quarterly in its 18th edition. The first Indian to do that since its inauguration three years ago is most certainly a laudable accomplishment.

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From taking his club side Bengaluru FC to the AFC Cup finals last year (where eventually they lost out to Iraq Air Force Club) to leading the national side successfully to the SAFF Championship and eventually to this position where the team finds itself right now, the 32 year old veteran is still more than capable of delivering the goods both at the domestic and at the international stages. The World Cup participation dream is well on its course and without a doubt, a lot rests on Chhetri’s trusted shoulders to assure those good old days of the 1950’s are back.