Cristiano Ronaldo, Sunil Chhetri, Lionel Messi.
Who is Sunil Chhetri and why is he being mentioned in the same breath as the two most iconic footballers in this era? For non-followers of Asian football, he may not ring a bell, let alone be a household name to any. To the Indian population, he is an icon in their country’s footballing endeavors.
At 34 years of age, Sunil Chhetri is a notable figure of Asian and Indian football, and the striker is also now someone who just overtook Messi as the second highest active international goal scorer with 67 international goals to his name, trailing only behind Ronaldo’s 85 international goals. This milestone was achieved when he scored a brace in India’s opening 4-1 win against Thailand in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2019.
Sunil Chhetri grew up in India’s Capital Delhi, born into a middle class family. His initial aspiration was not to become a footballer, but a cricketer – as did many kids in the cricket-loving subcontinent. But one thing prevented him from ever trying for a career in cricket – economic circumstances.
‘I did not have the guts to tell the guy who earned 8000 rupees, my father, to give me 2000 rupees just for my pads and my bat’. So instead, he worked hard on becoming a footballer to better provide for his family. He got his first big break when Mohun Bagan – the oldest existing football club in India, offered him a 3-year contract in 2002.
He has not looked back since in his illustrious career spanning 10 clubs and 3 countries. Highlights include a brief stint with Sporting Kansas Wizards in 2010 – being the first Indian player to play in Major League Soccer (MLS) in the process, and a longer spell with Sporting Clube De Portugal B (Sporting CP’s reserves) in 2012, playing in Portuguese Football’s second division. He currently captains Bengalaru FC in the Indian Super League (ISL), most recently leading them to a runner up finish in the 17/18 season with 14 goals under his belt.
Sunil Chhetri will undoubtedly go down in Indian football folklore once he hangs up his boots -as both India’s record goal scorer (67) and player with most international appearances (105). But for now, he is focused on spearheading India’s push for their most successful AFC Asian Cup campaign in recent history. With his brace and India’s opening win, they have already surpassed their poor showing in 2011’s edition – one in which they lost all their games.
‘Captain Fantastic’ for club and country, a football journeyman who defied the odds to play overseas, let us not belittle his accomplishments by making absurd comparisons of his goal scoring figures to Ronaldo and Messi, but instead, celebrate his humble success story.
A story of how a simple passion for football and hard work can change a life.
‘Football is my passion, my life. I’m motivated by the thought of getting on the pitch and doing what I enjoy doing most.‘
”You must be motivated. You must strive to improve every day, inch by inch. Practice and repetition is very important. There’s a well-known quote – ‘It takes years to become an overnight success.”’
Leave a comment