Mumbai: His team almost made history at the AFC Cup this year. Unfortunately, Sunil Chhetri’s Bengaluru FC fell short of laying its hands on the coveted cup losing to Iraq’s Al-Quwa-Al-Jawiya. Chhetri and his teammates were not just playing for their club, but for the entire nation. The kind of hype the match generated was something we have not seen over soccer in many years.
Chhetri tried and tried hard, but failed. Yet, he didn’t get the welcome back home, he deserved. Such has been the story of this talented footballer who remains an unsung hero overshadowed by Bhaichung Bhutia. Even after leading India for five years and being the most capped player and the highest goal scorer for the country, Chhetri has missed out on the accolades he should have got.
Starting his career with Mohun Bagan in 2002, Chhetri showed his skills and slowly and steadily made his way into the national team.
Talking about his contribution, it will be unfair to say that it’s anything less than tremendous. But still, Indian soccer and Bhutia are synonymous. In 2005 he moved to JCT and has scored 21 goals in 48 matches for the team. He was the first Indian footballer to be signed up for Kansas City Wizards in the Major League Soccer in 2010. He was also part of the reserves for Sporting Clube de Portugal in the Primeira Liga.
Chhetri helped India win the Nehru Cup thrice (2007, 2009 and 2012). India also won the SAFF Championship in 2011. He was outstanding in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, which India won to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup. Sunil Chhetri has been the AIFF Player of the Year in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2014. With 51 goals in 91 matches for India, he truly stakes claim to be considered among the greats.
In club football, Sunil Chhetri’s career got a push after joining Bengaluru FC in 2013. He was instrumental in winning the inaugural I-League season for his team. In the 2015-16 season, as a loaned player, he was pivotal enough to help Bengaluru FC win the I-league again.
Frank and candid as ever, Chhetri has never minced words. Chhetri has always put his nation over everything else and it was evident when he once said on the Indian Super League (ISL), “Sure, it would have been awkward, if I had in-depth knowledge of the ISL teams like I do about teams in the I-League. But since I don’t and since I haven’t had time to think, I am not too concerned about who will buy me. My goal, therefore, is to be fitter than ever.” Glamour and glitz have never been alluring factors for him.
There’s no denying that this Secunderabad-born dribbler has been silently making his presence felt. Yet, he still doesn’t generate the aura in consonance with his status as a national hero. Advertisers don’t throng outside his house and he doesn’t make an appearance on TV shows like Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa unlike Bhutia.
Years down the line, when he has hung up his boots, Sunil Chhetri must be pondering over the reasons behind the negligence he received despite putting more than 100 per cent on the field. Perhaps, he might be in tears, but for a true soccer fan, Chhetri is and will always be talked about with utmost reverence.