As a kid in the Indian subcontinent who aspires to be a sportsman, there are not many options that guaranty a livelihood except cricket. But that too is not an option if a cricket kit is far too expensive than one’s family can afford. As a result, a child who was fascinated by the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid and wanted to play for the country one day, took up the less glamorous and lesser talked about game in India- Football.
Sunil Chhetri was far from the boy with a silver spoon in his mouth. Chhetri had to work extremely hard in order to become what he is today- unarguably India’s most successful footballer. From the boy who would stitch his own football shoes to make sure he reaches for the game on time to becoming the face of Indian football and playing a key role in reviving a lost sport in India, Chhetri never took the easy way out.
On 4th June 2018, when the star player took the field against Kenya in the Intercontinental Cup, he achieved a rare feat- becoming only the second man to play for the Indian Football Team in 100 matches, the first being Bhaichung Bhutia. That being a statement in itself. Although there are several Indian players who have contributed significantly to Indian football- none to the impact of becoming a name synonymous to the Indian National Team except somebody like a Chuni Goswami, a Bhaichung Bhutia and now it is none other than the Secunderabad born player- Sunil Chhetri.
Being the core of the current Indian Team and obviously a great leader for the national and his franchise Bengaluru FC, Chhetri had the opportunity to play in Conventry City, it goes without saying then that perhaps his experiences at the highest level, with and against players equal or better than him at the skills they possess have helped him immensely while playing for the national side.
It is no secret in the world of sports that playing against better and tougher oppositions helps make a player or a team better. Many football clubs and from across the world have had a keen eye on him and offered him a chance to play, but Chhetri is predominantly known for his success with the national team and his ISL franchise Bengaluru FC.
Chhetri scored many crucial goals in the 2207 Nehru Cup to achieve the AIFF Player of the Year award and backed it up with another title win in 2012. It is the desire to win every single time, despite the odds, is what defines the character of a player- Chhetri, in this context, has shown indomitable strength and passion.
A one man show to a large extent has started an unprecedented phase in Indian football, where people are actually following the game with intensity and a hope that Indian Team has it in them to give the best at least a run for their money. In 2015, India’s rank as declared by the FIFA was 173 but since then has jumped to 97, which is the closest to India’s best ever ranking of 94 which India recorded in February 1996. Credit? Chhetri is far too humble to accept that he is responsible to generate such amazing numbers day in and day out.
The man who has a better scoring rate than the Messi and Ronaldo, will not be able to make it to a Football World Cup. Turning 34, later this year, Chhetri though, has done his job, and is a great ambassador of the game in India. When India do make it to the FIFA (which seems like anytime soon, though there is a long way to go), Sunil would be watching with immense satisfaction, without wearing an aura about him, because that’s what defines the man.
A full house on captain’s demand is only an indication of what one man’s determination to represent a country in a sport can do.