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Sunil Chhetri retires: 5 things that define Indian football team legend’s legacy

Sunil Chhetri has been a trailblazer in Indian football for more reasons than one. We list the ways in which his career will be remembered, when he ends his Indian football team career in June.

Sunil Chhetri announces retirement: Football legend Sunil Chhetri called time on his Indian football team career in an emotional video he posted on his social media handles on Thursday morning.

Sunil Chhetri will retire with his legacy secured as a man who made history in multiple ways, He has been the face of Indian football for many years. Not just in terms of numbers, he was often been an elder brother to younger players in India, who would put an arm around their shoulders and guide them along.

Here’s a list of the ways in which his career will be remembered (this is by no means a definitive list):

Sunil Chhetri’s numbers for Indian football team

Sunil Chhetri has scored 94 goals for the country, which makes him India’s all-time top scorer. Chhetri is also third in the list of goal scorers among active players (behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi). Sunil Chhetri is currently fourth in the all-time list of international goal-scorers. Sunil Chhetri is also the most-capped player for the Indian football team, having made his 150th national appearance in March. He had scored in that match against Afghanistan in Guwahati.

Sunil Chhetri has called announced his Indian football team retirement.

Sunil Chhetri has announced his Indian football team retirement. The game against Kuwait will be his last. (Screengrab via Sunil Chhetri)

The hat-trick in final at AFC Challenge Cup

One of the first moments that propelled Sunil Chhetri to proper superstardom for the national team was when he banged in four goals at the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup. Three of those came in the final against Tajikistan. Thanks to that win, the Blue Tigers qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup for the first time in 27 years.

When Sunil Chhetri made his debut against Pakistan

Sunil Chhetri’s debut for India came against the Pakistan football team 19 years ago in 2005. IN a high-pressure game, the youngster ended up scoring as well.

Recalling that moment in his retirement announcement video, Chhetri said: “There is one day that I will never forget. I remember it quite often: the first time I played for my country. It was unbelievable. The day before, in the morning Sukhi sir (Sukhwinder Singh), my first national team coach, in the morning he came to me and he’s like, you’re going to start. I can’t tell you how I was feeling, man,” an emotional Chhetri said in the clip. “I took my jersey, I sprayed some perfume on it, I have no idea why. So that day, everything that happened, once he told me, from breakfast to lunch and to the game and to my first goal in my debut, to conceding late in the 80th minute, that day is probably one that I will never forget and is one of the best days of my national team journey.”

Sunil Chhetri’s foreign stints

Not many Indian footballers have had the chance to play in foreign leagues. Sunil Chhetri was an outlier in that sense, playing for multiple teams over short stints.

Chhetri had a trial for Coventry City in England. But it did not materialise into a deal. He was then offered a contract by London-based Queens Park Rangers, who were playing in the English Championship at that time. However, that deal fell through because the British government denied him a work permit.

In 2010, Sunil Chhetri signed for Kansas City Wizards in the USA’s Major League Soccer. This made him only the third Indian footballer after Mohammad Saleem and Bhaichung Bhutia to play in a foreign league. While Chhetri returned to India after one season, it broadened the horizons of Indian players, who started to dream bigger.

Sunil Chhetri also had a short stint with Sporting Clube de Portugal in 2012. He only played five matches for his team before returning to India.

He has been a regular feature of Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League.

The elder brother in the hard pandemic years

During the CODI-19 pandemic years, when the ISL restarted players were forced to live in their hotel rooms throughout the season and maintain social distancing. The strain of living many months at a stretch started to take a toll on many players.

This led Chhetri to post a series of tweets on his handle urging players to reach out to him in January 2022.

“Only if you’re in the bubble, will you know how hard and frustrating this is. You’re away from family for half a year, cooped up in a room, anything outdoors is a luxury, there’s no change in setting to help you shake off a bad result — I could go on. To get through this is not something you can train for. It has nothing to do with skill, talent or experience. This is up there on the list of sacrifices we’re making, to be able to play the game we love. It’s a battle we’re all fighting in our ways. Reach out when you need to share, lend an ear to someone who needs to speak. We’re all going through the same thing and I just thought it would be nice if we could pick each other up when we need to. To any ISL player, across clubs, nationalities and experience — I’m up for a chat if you need one. We don’t have to talk about football. Drop me a message if you feel like it, and we’ll make it happen. The season, table, wins and losses will take care of themselves when they have to.”

This moment displayed that Chhetri’s true nature.

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