After Kaka earned Ballon d’Or in 2007, there have been only two champions gaining the honour- Messi and Ronaldo. These two are authoritative, unscathed in their respective field and players who can be looked back as two of the distinguished players to have ever existed.
So how come we stumbled across Sunil Chhetri? Well, to start off, Ronaldo is currently topping the international football goalscorer charts. With 85 goals he has bagged 154 caps for Portugal. However, Messi with 65 goals has 128 caps for Argentina. Here Chhetri comes into the picture.
Sunil Chhetri or Chhetri as we may call him is the joint second highest international goalscorer, neck and neck with Messi with 65 goals and 105 goals. It may not seem anything unusual but for a player who is not a household name in South America or Europe, it is quite an achievement. Yet his victory remains unmatched both in terms of goals and caps.
Born in August 1984 in a footballing family, football runs in Chhetri’s blood. His mother played for the Nepal women’s national team with her twin sister and his father played for the Indian Army’s team. This resulted in Chhetri playing a football from a very young age, although no one saw what impact will he have on Indian football. He commenced his professional career at Mohun Bagan FC before rewarding sessions at Dempo SC, East Bengal Club, and JCT FC.
Now his performances in the I-League were inviting attention from outside of India including European sides with English club Queens Park Rangers and Celtic interested in securing his services. Nonetheless, he got his lucky break when Major League Soccer club Kansas City Wizards invited him on the board.
This was a money-spinning opportunity for him since MLS would bestow an amazing platform for him to display his skills outside India. Regrettably, he made only 2 appearances for the Wizards— 45 minutes in a cup game and one substitute appearance in a match against Man-U. in the due course of time, he returned back to his home country and joined Chirag United.
After scoring a few more efficient goals in the I-League, another big opportunity awaited him. He was offered a 2-year contract by Sporting Clube de Portugal, which Chhetri immediately accepted and joined their reserve team Sporting B. Once again, Chhetri had an amazing chance to make his name in Europe and prove his worth at club level.
With only 3 appearances to his name, his opportunities were not boundless in Portugal. Soon he was sent back to India to join Churchill Brothers FC to enjoy more playing time. As soon as this loan spell ended, Sporting CP released Chhetri as he joined Bengaluru FC.
Chhetri found his real home here. He scored 73 goals in 145 games for Bengaluru in all competitions—a tremendously striking record scoring a goal every other game on average. Unabashed by his failures overseas, Chhetri is an evidence of mental strength, the ability to overcome disappointment, and hard work. Any other player would have been crestfallen after the Portua and U.S. spells but not Chhetri. He bounced back and continued to make records.
An upheld goalscorer in his native land, Chhetri’s Indian Super League has been in superb form in recent years and has been on the show for the national team. It is here in India—where he is rubbing shoulders with Messi and Ronaldo—where the stats speak for themselves.
He made his international debut for India on 12th June 2005 against Pakistan. Doing what he does best, as usual, Chhetri gave India the lead position before Pakistan flattened the game in a 1-1 draw. This game turned out to be the first of many goals he bagged for the national team and before long he was the “poster boy” of Indian football.
Chhetri has had some fabulous goal scoring years for India, taking 2008 into consideration where he scored 8 goals in 13 games for the national side. In 2011, he entered the double figures by scoring 11 goals in 17 games which are some serious feat.
Sunil Chhetri showed no sign of slowing down is a remarkable trait. Scoring 4 goals in 5 games for Bengaluru in this calendar and in the early stages of this season, the year has 8 goals from 5 games for India which is a remarkable strike rate. At the age of 34, we may expect a striker to slow down but Chhetri is playing some of his best football and displaying his outstanding footballing skills. This is some real worry for defences all over the world.
His achievements cannot be ignored in any way, though he may be playing teams which have a low standard on the international stage. Scoring goals against the likes of Guam, Myanmar, and Macau may not be exquisite goals, yet they all count the same at the final whistle.
Surprisingly, at present Messi’s international future seems to be hanging in the balance, on the other hand, Chhetri is still banging some amazing goals for India. Is there any possibility that he will eclipse the Argentine regarding international when all is said and done? Yes, it is a very real possibility. These were just the highlights of what wonderful player fans of the Indian national team have had the pleasure of watching over the last 10 years.