SUNIL CHETRI – THE MAN, THE MYTH BUT WHAT IS THE LEGEND LEAVING BEHIND?
Sunil Chhetri – The name is more than enough to ring a bell in the minds of Indian football freaks. Not only has he scored the most number of goals but he has also made efforts to uplift the status of football in India. In his illustrious career he has scored more than 80 goals and dragged the Indian team to several tournaments.
At 38, Chhetri is also one of the most decorated Indian footballers to grace the game. Since making his debut for India in 2002 against Pakistan, Sunil Chhetri is the only Indian to be listed among the Top 10 highest International goal scorer. His goal tally for India speaks a lot about his persona and dedication to take his national team to the next level.
The 38-year-old has already surpassed Pele’s record of 74 International goals and as things stand he is level with Hungarian great Ferenc Puskas with 84 goals to his name. His contribution towards the growth of Indian football is immense having inspired millions of Indians to take up the sport professionally.
FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF FORMER LEGENDS
When we talk about Indian football it is unfair to not mention the likes of IM Vijayan and Bhaichung Bhutia. Even before Sunil Chhetri made his full debut, IM Vijayan, also known as the blackbuck was gaining a lot of traction because of his ability with the ball. Vijayan’s impeccable skills and aggressive style of play made him one of the very first strikers to make an impact for Indian football.
IM Vijayan scored 240 goals in his club career and 40 goals for India in 79 appearances. At that point of time he was the highest earner in the Indian football team as well. The Former legend won the Player of the year award three times and was also felicitated with the Arjun Award in 2003. During the 1999 SAF Games, IM Vijayan scored one of the fastest international goals against Bhutan when he found the back of the net in just 12 seconds.
Indian football is also incomplete without mentioning Bhaichung Bhutia who was once regarded as the Poster boy of Indian football. In 80 appearances for the Blue tigers he managed to score 26 goals. The Sikkim born Striker won the SAFF Championship, AFC Challenge cup, Nehru Cup and a goal medal for India during the South asian games.
WHAT DIFFERENTIATES CHETRI FROM IM VIJAYAN AND BHAICHUNG BHUTIA?
If we solely focus on numbers then Sunil Chhetri is already miles ahead of both Vijayan and Bhutia. Whether it is the number of goals, trophies or individual awards, Sunil Chhetri has proved to be the upgraded version of the two legends of Indian football. The Indian Captain’s performances speak for itself.
Sunil Chhetri’s goal ratio per match is 0.63% whereas Vijayan retired with 0.44% and Bhutia has the lowest goal ratio per match among the three with 0.39 goals a game. Chhetri has also won more matches than the two and has three international hat-tricks under his belt.
However, there is one common thing that the trio shares. None of them had the chance of playing at the grandest stage – The FIFA World cup. Vijayan, Bhutia and Chhetri happen to share the same grief. If team India solidified themselves in every position then maybe it would have made a difference.
WHO WILL SUCCEED SUNIL CHETRI ONCE HE CALLS IT QUITS
At 38-years of age, Sunil Chhetri is still aiming to go play for a few more years. His leadership quality is second to none and it will be hard to replace. Sooner or later, we are going to come across the news of Sunil Chetri’s retirement hopefully not before next year’s AFC Asian Cup.
The Indian record goal scorer only has a few years left to play and the question is already looming around that “Who will succeed Sunil Chetri”? He has proved every critique wrong that ever doubted him. If India manages to win the AFC Asian Cup next year, that will be icing on the cake for Sunil Chhetri.
The Indian national team contains players that are capable of succeeding Sunil Chhetri – the Leader but who will replace Sunil Chhetri – the Goalscorer is something that the Fans as well as the AIFF will be worried about. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh sandhu is a player who comes with a lot of experience and has played a good amount of football outside of India as well. He has led the Bengaluru FC a couple of times and he has the capability of captaining the Indian team as well.
Jeje Lalpekhlua, Manvir Singh and Udanata singh play in the same position as Sunil Chhetri but they are yet to reach the level of the 38-year-old striker. Jeje has been a prominent name among Indian fans but his ties with Injuries has seen him fall down the pecking order with a lack of game time also a concern.
Only time can tell who can replace Sunil Chhetri’s excellence in front of the goal. All eyes will be on the upcoming season of the ISL as AIFF scouts will look forward to find a player matching the caliber of Chhetri.