(October 26, 2021) His diminutive figure shuffles with alacrity across the football field as he dons the mantle of playmaker with ease. Before you know it, Sunil Chhetri scores. The football skipper of the Indian national football team and Bengaluru FC has another special moniker to his name nowadays – of having surpassed Brazilian legend Pele’s record of international goals scored (when India beat Maldives at the SAFF Championship 2021). Pele scored 77 goals for Brazil, Chhetri now has 80 goals under his belt. Yet, ask the purposeful striker, and he would much rather speak about more important things – like the beautiful game, the Bengaluru FC women’s team or the heart of training.
The 37-year-old has been wearing the Indian jersey since 2005, and while 2011 was his best season ever with 13 goals, 2021 comes a close second with eight goals, and counting with the season starting soon. In football years, that is an achievement in itself.
Didn't start like we should have, but ended exactly how we wanted to. Proud of this bunch and the way we got things on track.
I enjoyed watching that, Sahal.👌
Suresh, of all the things you copy from me, this is up there. Make it a habit.🙂 #SAFFChampionship2021 🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/Z67Kca5qBh
— Sunil Chhetri (@chetrisunil11) October 17, 2021
Football in the family
The boy born to KB Chhetri (Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Indian Army), and Sushila Chhetri in Secunderabad had a childhood entrenched in the basics of football as his father played for the Indian Army’s team, and his mother and twin aunts played for Nepal women’s national team. The little Chhetri imbibed tenets of the game as a toddler, and no doubt got lessons that gave him a foundation that has added to his prowess. Similar to how Tiger Woods learned watching his father swing his golf club in the garage as a toddler.
COVID-19 lockdowns and bio bubbles were tough to adapt to but Chhetri was busy using social media to get help. “It was a time when everyone came together in such amazing ways. It was overwhelming to see people go out of their way to help complete strangers. I was happy to lend my social media platforms to some fantastic people who were doing so much to gather resources. They were the real heroes,” says Chhetri.
The Indian captain is the third-highest active international goal scorer. Both Goats – Lionel Messi (80) and Cristiano Ronaldo (115) are ahead of Chhetri in goal scoring, yet the affable and modest skipper would much rather concentrate on his next game, and give his best. With clubs like Mohun Bagan, JCT, Dempo, and international seasons with Sporting Clube de Portugal (also called Sporting Lisbon (B)), Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer during his stellar career, there have been many an international transfer rumour in the past. At the heart of it lies a leader, mentor, and player who believes in being proactive.
The leader in him
Chhetri always has a motivating word for his teammates. Videos of his positive words dot his twitter account, and he himself is extremely driven. His secret? “There is no secret. When you love what you do, you don’t have to search for reasons to turn up. It’s hard work, yes, but it’s all worth it at the end of every training session, every game, every season,” says Sunil to Global Indian from Maldives.
His tryst with BFC has taken the club to greater heights. With 203 appearances, he has scored 101 goals. His joie de vivre is evident in his demeanour and dedication to football. With many accolades, and monikers, he is humble, and would much rather leave his past laurels behind, and look at creating more.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to share the dressing room with some stalwarts of Indian football. Seniors like Bhaichung Bhai and Renedy Singh took me in and showed me the ropes of pro football. There were so many others who I shared dressing rooms with, and looked up to,” says Chhetri, who has always tried to pick the best qualities to emulate from those around him.
Chhetri had also met Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona in Kolkata to kick off a game years ago. He recalled the magic he great brought on his passing. His aura was infectious, and Chhetri was awestruck.
Practice makes perfect
Practice makes perfect, and Sunil’s pre-game routine is like clockwork – now a habit. “When it comes to must-dos, it’s more about resting enough, eating correctly and on time, getting my time with the masseur – regular, boring stuff,” says the footballer.
Different teams, different management styles have only enhanced Chhetri’s adaptability and enterprise. Any favourite managers? The diplomat says he has learned from many, “Football comprises so many aspects and you find these elements in different people.”
Cheering Team India
The constant motivator, he can be seen egging on Olympians, footballers, teams and other sports people. When Bengaluru FC recently announced starting age-group women’s teams in September 2021, a thrilled Sunil welcomed this move. “It’s fantastic that the club has come forward with the intent to have a full-fledged women’s team. It took a while in the coming, but they wanted to do it right and that’s how Bengaluru FC approaches things. Women’s football needs a big push and we’ve got to do it together. I’m optimistic that things will only get better,” says the skipper.
Chhetri married his girlfriend Sonam Bhattacharya in 2017. Sonam is former Indian international and Mohun Bagan player Subrata Bhattacharya’s daughter. Thus, personally too football made its mark, or match. “Marriage is wonderful. Sonam and I have been together long enough now. You appreciate many aspects as time goes by. It helps a lot that she has had an upbringing that involved football because we footballers can be a very tough species to understand and deal with. More so, when things aren’t going well, she’s been a real blessing, I am grateful for that,” says the husband, who is admittedly not big on talking about himself.
- Follow Sunil Chhetri on Twitter