JERSEY 11: SUNIL CHHETRI, THE GREAT LEGEND AND HEARTBEAT OF THE INDIAN FOOTBALL TEAM

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Sunil Chhetri

Introduction 

Sunil Chhetri, the third-highest active international goal scorer and India’s most-capped player, has announced his retirement from international football, with tributes and gratitudes pouring in on social media platforms for the national football team captain. The Khel Ratna awardee, through a video message, has announced that the World Cup qualifier against Kuwait on June 6 will be his last international game.

Early Life

Sunil Chhetri, also dubbed “Captain Fantastic”, was born on 03 August 1984, in Secunderabad, Telangana. He was born to Sushila Chhetri and K.B. Chhetri, an officer in the Indian Army. He had an early connection with football as his father was a player for the Indian Army Football Team and his mother and his sister played for the national women’s football team for Nepal.

Being a child of an army officer, Chhetri switched schools frequently, showing brilliant performance in football for every school he represented. When he was in Bahai School in Gangtok, Sikkim and played for the school team, many football clubs noticed him. It might sound strange but Chhetri, in his younger days, never considered becoming a professional football player. He, instead, wanted to get into a reputed institute for higher studies through his excellent sports skills.

In 2001, Chhetri who was in New Delhi, training at the Tata Football Academy, was made a part of the Indian team for the Asian School Championships in Kuala Lumpur. He was spotted by one of India’s oldest and most famous football clubs of the time – Mohun Bagan- and got signed by them for the upcoming domestic season. From here began the journey of Sunil Chhetri becoming one of the greatest football players from India. He made his international debut in 2004 against Pakistan in the 2004 South Asian Games and his first international tournament was the 2007 Nehru Cup.

Rise to Prominence

Chhetri’s professional breakthrough came when he joined JCT in 2005, where he scored a remarkable 21 goals in 48 matches. His performance at JCT earned him a call-up to the national team, marking the beginning of an illustrious international career. Chhetri’s international debut was in 2005 against Pakistan, and he quickly became a key player for India, showcasing his scoring prowess and leadership qualities.

Club Career Highlights

Chhetri’s club career is decorated with stints at various prominent clubs. After his success with JCT, he played for clubs like East Bengal and Dempo, where he continued to exhibit his goal-scoring abilities. His talent was recognised internationally, leading to brief periods with Kansas City Wizards in Major League Soccer (MLS) and Sporting CP in Portugal.

Sunil Chhetri

However, it was his tenure with Bengaluru FC that truly solidified his status as a legend in Indian football. Joining the club in 2013, Chhetri became the face of Bengaluru FC, leading them to multiple titles including the I-League and Indian Super League (ISL) championships. His consistency and dedication have made him a beloved figure among fans and a respected leader on the field.

Leadership and Humility

For Sunil Chhetri, football is about more than just skill and strategy. It’s also about trust and emotion. As a captain, Sunil Chhetri understands the importance of building a strong sense of camaraderie and mutual respect among his teammates. He knows that pointing fingers after a loss can be catastrophic for the team, and instead encourages his teammates to take responsibility for their mistakes and learn from them.

Sunil Chhetri‘s approach to recovering from a bad game is simple yet effective. He takes responsibility for his own mistakes and encourages his teammates to do the same. He believes that self-reflection and learning from one’s mistakes are key to improving as a player and as a team.

Being a captain is a challenging job, but Sunil Chhetri takes it in stride. He leads by example, both on and off the field. He understands that his actions and attitude can have a profound impact on his teammates, and he strives to be a positive influence at all times.

Overcoming Adversity

Despite his success, Sunil Chhetri remains humble and grounded. He knows that hard work and discipline are the keys to achieving his goals. He follows a strict daily routine, waking up early and starting his day with push-ups. He also makes time for reading and training, always striving to improve his skills and knowledge.

Sunil Chhetri is also a firm believer in the importance of surrounding oneself with the right people. He knows that mediocre talent can be a drag on a team, and he actively seeks out ambitious and driven individuals who share his passion for football.

Throughout his career, Sunil Chhetri has had the good fortune to work with some incredible coaches and mentors. He is grateful for their guidance and support, and he strives to pay it forward by helping young players who are eager to learn and improve.

Despite the challenges and setbacks he has faced, Sunil Chhetri remains committed to sustaining his success. He knows that taking liberties with his food and lifestyle can be a recipe for disaster, and he works hard to maintain a healthy balance.

Sunil Chhetri is also a strong advocate for mental calmness and stability. He has developed a routine for building mental strength, and he believes that a strong mind is just as important as a strong body in sports.

One of the biggest challenges Sunil Chhetri has faced in his career was a ligament tear in his ankle that kept him out of the game for six months. It was a heartbreaking experience, but Sunil Chhetri refused to let it defeat him. He worked hard to recover, and he came back stronger than ever.

International Achievements

Sunil Chhetri

On the international stage, Sunil Chhetri‘s contributions have been monumental. With over 120 caps, he is India’s most-capped player and top goal scorer, surpassing even the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia. His leadership has been instrumental in India’s success in various tournaments, including the SAFF Championship and the AFC Asian Cup. Chhetri’s ability to deliver in crucial moments, such as his hat-trick against Tajikistan in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup final, which secured India’s qualification for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, underscores his importance to the national team.

Contribution and Legacy

Beyond the statistics and accolades, Chhetri’s impact on Indian football transcends the pitch. His dedication, work ethic, and professionalism have set new standards for aspiring footballers in India. He has been a vocal advocate for the development of football infrastructure and youth programs in the country, understanding that the future of Indian football lies in nurturing young talent.

Chhetri’s social media presence, particularly his heartfelt appeals to fans to support the national team, has significantly increased the visibility and popularity of football in a cricket-dominated nation. His humble demeanour and approachability have made him a role model for millions, inspiring a new generation of football enthusiasts.

For Sunil Chhetri, being a good human being is just as important as being a good football player. He makes time for his family and friends, and he strives to be a positive influence in his community.

Sunil Chhetri‘s success is built on a foundation of consistency and hard work. He knows that success is not a destination, but a journey. He understands that there will be ups and downs along the way, but he remains committed to doing what needs to be done every day to achieve his goals.

Conclusion

Sunil Chhetri’s story is a testament to what passion, perseverance, and hard work can achieve. As he continues to lead the national team and perform at the highest level, his legacy as the beacon of Indian football grows ever brighter. Chhetri is not just a footballer; he is an icon whose contributions to the sport will be remembered long after he hangs up his boots. In the annals of Indian sports history, Sunil Chhetri’s name will forever be etched as a pioneer who propelled Indian football onto the global stage.

-ABHINASH & SHIVANGI

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