Sunil Chhetri: Little Talisman

Sunil Chhetri

LIAM DIAS

He’s not as tall as your regular footballers. He doesn’t have that authoritative, fearful presence on the pitch. Well, he doesn’t need to. His slick movements make up for his height. His ball control and skills leave defenders for dead. It’s no wonder then that the poster boy of Indian football, Sunil Chhetri, has scored more goals in official FIFA matches than twice the goals of the rest of the squad — 51 to 25.

Born in Secunderabad (now part of Telangana), Chhetri’s first major move was when he began his professional football career with Mohun Bagan in 2002. And from then, it’s all been uphill.

He became only the third Indian footballer to play for a foreign club after Mohammad Salem and Baichung Bhutia when he was selected for Kansas City Wizards in 2010. He further went on to play for the ‘B’ side of Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon. His time at the famed club that nurtured the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani may not have been as per his liking, but Chhetri did understand what it’s like to be with the ‘big boys’.

While he may receive accolades for his time with foreign clubs, his real masterstroke was joining Bengaluru FC in 2013. Signing for a new club is always a gamble, but Bengaluru FC and Chhetri have proved that it paid off, and how! Winning the I-League in their debut season, Bengaluru have won the League twice and even pocketed the Federation Cup under former coach Ashley Westwood. And Chhetri has definitely been the talisman of the team.

As far as the Indian team is concerned, there’s nobody that comes close to the Mumbai City FC player. On September 3, in India’s friendly against higher-ranked Puerto Rico, Chhetri produced an incredible performance that helped India brush aside the island country 4-1.

Chhetri, who had handed the captain’s armband to goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, was involved in three of India’s goals, all scored in the first half. His free-kick in the 23rd minute was the highlight of the match. But remember, he also set up goals for Narayan Das (17th min) and Jeje Lalpekhlua (34th min).

Read the full article by subscribing to the print magazine or the digital edition.