Birth and early years
3rd August 1984. It was an auspicious day for K.B. Chhetri and Sushila Chhetri in the hot and humid conditions of Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh (Now Telangana), India.
A son was born to K. B. Chhetri, an officer in the Electronics and Mechanical Engineers Corps of the Indian Army, and former Nepal women’s football national team player.
K.B. Chhetri himself was a player for the Indian Army football team. It was a perfect environment for a young Sunil Chhetri to start developing a liking for football. Soon his fathered got retired and they moved to Gangtok, Sikkim where Sunil did his schooling in Bahai School Gangtok.
His father’s retirement brought a period of austerity in the family due to which Sunil’s dreams of becoming a professional footballer were put on a break for some time.
However, his sheer will and determination to play football overcame all the barriers and he made his professional debut for not only one of the oldest club in India but in Asia as well.
Founded in 1889, Mohun Bagan probably had given the opportunity to play professional football to one of the brightest stars of Indian football history in 2002. Little did a young Sunil know back then that he will be donning the Indian National Team jersey and become a Captain Legend.
His career turning point came in 2007 Nehru Cup where Sunil led from the front and became the highest goalscorer for India in the tournament. In the process of beating the likes of Cambodia, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and Syria in the final, Sunil emerged as an able strike partner to another Indian football legend, Bhaichung Bhutia.
They both formed a formidable partnership and scored a combined total of 7 goals in the tournament to make India first champions of Nehru Cup played after a gap of 10 years.
One year later in AFC Challenge Cup, Sunil scored a hattrick in the final win against Tajikistan which enabled India to automatically qualify for 2011 Asia Cup for the first time in 24 years. His hattrick made him the overnight sensation and “poster boy” of Indian Football.
In 2012 he was appointed as captain for the first time against Malaysia in a friendly, and he celebrated it with a brace in front of the passionate Salt Lake crowd of Kolkata. He took over the mantle of Captain after Bhaichung Bhutia’s retirement and always tried to lead from the front.
A good wine becomes better with age, so does Sunil Chhetri. From a young, dynamic & explosive player, he now became this cool, composed player who always goes into the dangerous areas and has a sudden burst of speed which leaves opposition defenders to their wake. His best prowess, however, is his lethal finishing. He rarely misses a goal if provided with an opportunity.
India had many football legends in the past. Talimeren Ao, Salien Manna, PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, I.M. Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia to name a few. But maybe Sunil Chhetri will become the main catalyst to bring about a revolution of football in India. He is 33 years old now, but he goes about every match, every challenge, every tackle, and every goal like a 20-year-old who never stops running.
He completed his missing link in his footballing family by marrying his longtime girlfriend Sonam Bhattacharya in 2017, who herself is the daughter of the famous Indian footballer, Subroto Bhattacharya.
Things couldn’t have been going better for the national team legend after his 2 goals in the final win against Kenya in the Intercontinental Cup 2018. This also matched his own previous record of scoring in 6 consecutive matches for India.
Comparison with other modern greats
He has been so prolific of late that whenever India plays, you can bet all your money on him to score a goal. This prolific run since his debut puts him alongside the greatest ever player to play the game, Lionel Messi, on the list of highest active goal scorers in International level. Only Cristiano Ronaldo, another goal scoring machine and great, is ahead of them both now.
Maybe this record and win against Kenya will put India on the global map of world football while Sunil Chhetri keeps being the beacon of hope for Indian Football. He is the Captain of the Indian Football Team. He is the Leader who leads from the front. He is the LEGEND!