Sunil Chhetri (born 3 August 1984) is an Indian professional footballer who plays as a forward and captains both Indian Super League club Bengaluru and the India national team.
As of 16 October 2021, Chhetri is the second joint-highest international goalscorer, along with Lionel Messi, among the active players, behind only to Cristiano Ronaldo, and fifth-highest of all time. He is both the most-capped player and the all-time top goalscorer for India.
Chhetri began his professional career at Mohun Bagan in 2002, moving to JCT where he scored 21 goals in 48 games. He signed for Major League Soccer side the Kansas City Wizards in 2010, becoming the third player from the subcontinent of note to go abroad. He returned to India’s I-League where he played for Chirag United and Mohun Bagan before going back abroad, at Sporting CP of the Primeira Liga, where he played for the club’s reserve side.
Chhetri helped India win the 2007, 2009, and 2012 Nehru Cup, as well as the 2011, 2015, and 2021 SAFF Championship. He has also helped India win the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, which qualified them to their first AFC Asian Cup in 27 years, scoring twice in the final tournament in 2011. Chhetri has also been named AIFF Player of the Year a record six times in 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018–19.
International Debut :
On 30th March 2004, Chhetri represented the Indian U-20 team from the first time in the 1-0 victory over the Pakistan U-23 team in the 2004 SAF Games in Pakistan.
India defeated Cambodia 6-0 in Chhetri’s first international tournament which was the 2007 Nehru Cup in which Chhetri scored 2 goals.
His good form continued and eventually became one of the best Indian footballers
Rise to Glory :
It was with the national team that Chhetri gained fame and made a name for himself. He helped India win the Nehru Cup 3 times in 2007, 2009 and 2012 as well as the 2011 SAFF Championship.
During the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, he was also one of India’s best players as he helped India win the tournament. The team qualified for their first AFC Asian Cup in 27 years in the process.
At the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, he led India in scoring during their short-lived campaign with two goals.
Club Career :
He started his career during early days with Delhi city FC during 2001-2002. But his real journey started when he started playing for the famous Kolkata club – Mohun Bagan. His stint with the club didn’t go down quite well as in the span of 3 years with the club, Chhetri just managed to score 8 goals in the 18 appearances he had.
He then went on to play for JCT in the year 2005 and remained there for a span of 3 years. In the first season with JCT (2005-06) Chhetri managed to score 3 goals.
In the next season (2006-07), Chhetri managed to attract everyone’s attention by being the highest goal scorer in the tournament, scoring 11 goals for JCT, helping it to secure 2nd position in the league table.
In his last tenure (2007-08), which was also the first season of the I- league, Chhetri managed to score 7 goals while JCT finished 3rd in the tournament. Owing to his exemplary performance for the club and country, Chhetri was awarded the AIFF player of the award for the year 2007.
In the year 2008, rumors which were later confirmed by chhetri hinted of him having talks with the clubs of English football league and second division clubs of Portugal. However, the deal was never finalised. In 2008-09 he played for East Bengal. In the 14 appearances he had for the club, Chhetri managed to score 9 goals.
In 2009, Chhetri went for a trial in Coventry, England. However, the trial didn’t go down quite well and Chhetri was unable to grab the chance. In the same year, Chhetri signed a 2 year contract with Dempo which allowed him to leave abroad for the trials. In the 13 appearances he made for the club, chhetri scored 8 goals. In August 2009, it was known that Chhetri has signed a 3 year contract with Queens Park Ranger – A club in Football League Championship. But he was denied a work permit by the British government due to the fact that that India were not in the Top 70 of the FIFA world rankings.
In March 2010, Chhetri signed for the Kanas City Wizards, thus becoming the first Indian to play for major League Soccer (MLS). Although, he didn’t get a chance to make an official appearance for the team. Chhetri was then called upon by AIFF – who promised Chhetri to take care of his wages; to prepare and compete for the Indian National Team until 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
In 2011, Chirag United signed Sunil Chhetri for 2010-11 I-league season. In total, he made 7 appearances for the team and scored 7 goals. In the 2011-12 season, he made his return to Mohun Bagan – the club from where he started his Journey and being hit by injuries scored 8 goals in the 14 appearances he had.
In July 2012, Chhetri signed a two year contract with Sporting Clube de Portugal ‘B’ team.
In July 2013, Chhetri signed up with another I- league side Bengaluru FC, following his release from Sporting Clube de Portugal. In 23 appearances he made for Bengaluru FC, Chhetri scored 14 goals and had 7 assists to his name, thus leading Bengaluru FC to the first ever I-league title in its debut season.
Chhetri began the season for Bengaluru FC in 2014 Durand Cup but missed the decisive penalty in the semi-final against Salgaocar. He then majorly contributed to Bengaluru FC in grabbing the 2014-15 federation cup.
In 2015, Chhetri was picked by Mumbai city for Rs. 1.2 crores, making him the most expensive Indian player to be picked up at the auction. In the fourth game against NorthEast United, Chhetri made his way into the record books by becoming the first Indian player to score a hat-trick.
In the 2015-16 season of the I-league, Chhetri was loaned out to Bengaluru FC and he again paved the way for is team to conquer the title by scoring 5 goals.
In June 2016, Bengaluru FC declared that Chhetri signed a 1 year contract at the club, thus taking back the ownership rights from Mumbai City.
Sunil Chhetri is the person who has triggered the craze for Football in the country, the person who has time and again brought glory for India in the sport that faces a dearth of players that can match up to the International standards of the game. As the Indian Football legend Sunil Chettri aptly defines in his twitter bio – ‘My life revolves around shuttling between taking the field for India and Bengaluru FC. Couldn’t have had it better.’
International Career :-
On March 30, 2004, Chhetri debuted for the Indian U-20 team in the Asian games held in Pakistan. But it was another 1 year later on June 12, 2005 when Sunil scored his first goal playing for the Senior Indian National Football Team against arch rival Pakistan.
Chhetri’s first prominent International tournament was the 2007 Nehru cup where he outshined by scoring 4 goals in the tournament and leading India to the victory after 1997. In the 2008 SAFF Championship, Chhetri scored 2 goals and India reached the finals. However, it was the 2008 AFC Challenge cup which helped Chhetri rose to fame in which he scored 4 goals. In the finals against Tajikistan, he scored a hat-trick to help India claim the title and also enabling them to automatically qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup. In December 2011, SAFF championship was held in India with India being the the dominant winners and Chhetri contributing massively by scoring 7 goals in the tournament.
In August 2012, owing to the immense contribution of Sunil Chhetri, India went on to become the champion with Sunil being one of the highest scorer in the tournament with 4 goals.
Football is one of the most popular games globally. But unfortunately, India has never seen much of great players that can put forth the limelight onto the Indian Football. In a way, Sunil Chhetri has been quite successful in doing that and has inspired and paved way for budding talents in the game.
For the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualification which took place in Malaysia, Chhetri was named as the national team captain. He managed to score 21 goals after donning the captain’s armband and helped his side win many titles.
Chhetri has also been named AIFF Player of the Year five times in 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017. With 56 goals in 97 appearances, he is also the all-time top goalscorer for the India national team, and also he is the most-capped player.
Other than Arjuna award in 2011, he was also honoured with FPAI Indian Player of the Year in 2009 and 2018, AFC Challenge Cup Most Valuable Player in 2008, SAFF Championship Player of the Tournament in 2011, Hero of the I-League for the 2016–17 season and the Hero of the Indian Super League for the 2017–18 season.