India veteran Sunil Chhetri keeps on kicking


Dubai: Sunil Chhetri, India’s football captain, has assured his legion of fans that he still has many more years to go before hanging up his boots.

The 35-year-old, who made his debut on June 12, 2005, under coach Sukhwinder Singh in a friendly match against Pakistan in Quetta, was convinced that all his hard work and pain would ultimately pay off with a long and cherished career for club and country.

“The fact that I am here after 15 years, and few more left — that’s my achievement,” Chhetri told the official All India Football Federation (AIFF) website.

“I don’t want to take credit alone for my achievement, everyone starting from on the pitch and off the pitch — my family, my teammates. It’s a very rare for any sport around the globe to play for 15 years for the country. I am very fortunate.”

Born on August 3, 1984 in Secunderabad in the Indian State of Telangana, Chhetri is currently the second-highest active international goalscorer with 72 goals, behind the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo’s 79. Chhetri, who was named an ‘Asian Icon’ by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on his 34th birthday in 2018, is also the most-capped player for the Indian national team with 115 appearances so far.

Chhetri completed 15 years in international football on Friday, thus becoming only the second Indian footballer after former captain Bhaichung Bhutia to achieve the feat.

The Indian lad remained eternally grateful to all the hard work put in by his former teammates. “If people like Bhaichung (Bhutia) bhai, Renedy (Singh) bhai, Abhishek (Yadav) bhai or Venky (Venkatesh Shanmugam) bhai and others didn’t work hard and trust me with the opportunities, things may have been different,” he said. “Just like I reaped the fruits of their hard work, the same goes for the current generation. It’s because of the hard work of Bhaichung, Steven (Dias), Mangi (Gouramangi Singh), Pal bhai (Subrata Pal), many others and myself, that guys like Sandesh (Jhingan), Gurpreet (Singh), (Anirudh) Thapa and Amarjit (Singh) are reaping the rewards today.’

Chhetri, however, made a special mention of Bhutia. “When I first joined Mohun Bagan [in 2002], he had just come back from England. I used to see him so dedicated and give everything in training. He told me then ‘Don’t worry, you will never know how time passes. You will be there’,” Chhetri said.

career. They all are a big reason why I have had the privilege of completing 15 years in international football.”

Chhetri also took a stand on eradicating all forms of racism. “It really hurts,” he said. “There is absolutely no logic or truth behind it. It used to happen a lot before. But now we need to educate more people about it. Mankind owes it to its own evolution to rid this world of racism.”

“Racism comes from ignorance, at the end of the day. If I see someone being racist, I would get a hold of them and explain to them why what they are doing is wrong. At the end of the day, everyone belongs to some colour, caste, or religion. So what is the point of demeaning a person from another community.”

Began his professional career in football at Mohun Bagan in 2002

Signed for Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer (MLS) in the US, in 2010

Played for the reserve team of Sporting Clube de Portugal (Cristiano Ronaldo’s former club) in Portugal’s Primeira Liga

Helped India win the Nehru Cup in 2007, 2009 and 2012 along with the 2011 SAFF Championship

Was one of India’s best players during the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup that India won and thus qualified for their first AFC Asian Cup in 27 years

Has also been named the ‘AIFF Player of the Year on a record six occasions so far (2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019)

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