These players have etched their names in the history books of the sport in the country.
Over the decades, Indian football has produced a good share of quality defensive players. Be it brilliant goalkeepers like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Subrata Paul or defenders like Mahesh Gawli and Sandesh Jhingan, there have been plenty of commendable defensive players to grace the top-level football scene.
However, the number of elite attacking talents have been a handful. This has forced Indian clubs to often sign foreign strikers or attacking players to light things up, narrowing the opportunities for domestic strikers to soar high. There have, however, been a few occasions when Indian attackers broke free of their shackles to outscore everyone else in a football season.
TRAU FC’s Bidyashagar Singh is the latest to achieve the incredible feat of being the top scorer of a national league, having won the Golden Boot in the recently -concluded I-League season. Only three other stars have managed this rare feat before. Here’s a look at the four times Indian footballers topped goalscoring charts in the country’s premiere lleague competitions.
4. Raman Vijayan (NFL 1997-98)
The second National Football League (NFL) championship that took place during the 1997-98 season saw a stiff battle in the title race between Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. The man to spearhead East Bengal’s charge was Tamil Nadu-born striker Raman Vijayan, who proved himself as a deadly goalscorer in the campaign.
Vijayan scored 10 goals in 18 appearances for the Red and Gold Brigade, proving his finishing ability with a couple of deft finishes. In total, he contributed towards the majority of East Bengal’s 18 goals in the entire campaign, winning them crucial matches with his strikes. While the Red and Gold ended up coming up short in the title race, which was won by Bagan, Vijayan ended the season as the Golden Boot winner of the NFL season and his career really picked up after that impressive breakthrough term.
3. Bidyashagar Singh (I-League 2020-21)
The latest Indian player to earn the honour of topping the goalscoring charts of the I-League is Bidyashagar Singh – who displayed some terrific football for TRAU FC. After a relatively slow start to the season, the East Bengal youth academy product started to come up big when his team needed it the most.
After helping them qualify for the championship round with five goals in the regular league phase, Bidyashagar unleashed his goalscoring might in the decisive games. He scored back-to-back hat-tricks against Mohammedan Sporting and Real Kashmir, achieving a very rare feat at that. Bidyashagar also scored an impressive goal in the final game against Gokulam Kerala and despite coming up short in the championship race, he won the Golden Boot and became the first Indian to top the I-League scoring charts outright.
2. Sunil Chhetri (I-League 2013-14)
In Bengaluru FC’s first-ever season in the I-League, the one to propel them to the championship was captain Sunil Chhetri. The lethal striker actually had a bit of a slow start to the campaign with only two goals in their first 10 games. But, after scoring a brace in their 2-1 win over Shillong Lajong at home, Chhetri did not look back.
He scored crucial goals in big wins over Churchill Brothers, Salgaocar FC as well as Mohammedan Sporting to help his side take control of the title race. Chhetri maintained the winning spirit in his team through the competition and helped them edge East Bengal to win the crown. He also ended up as the joint-top scorer of the season, sharing the Golden Boot with Darryl Duffy and Cornell Glen after an excelling debut season with BFC.
1. Bhaichung Bhutia (NFL 1996-97)
But, the first Indian footballer to rise above the odds and top the goalscoring charts for a single season was Bhaichung Bhutia during his incredible years in the 1990s. In the 1996-97 National Football League season, Indian sensation Bhutia took control of the title race for JCT. He excelled for them in the league stages, helping JCT come out on top of their difficult group.
But, it was in the Championship stages that Bhutia really found his feet, as he scored five goals in a 6-1 trouncing of Mohammedan Sporting – becoming the first-ever Indian player to achieve that feat in a premier football competition. He followed it with a hat-trick against Dempo later on and all those goals helped him soar to the top of the goalscoring charts. In the end, Bhaichung Bhutia kept scoring important winners for JCT to help them pip Churchill Brothers to win the first-ever NFL title and get himself the Golden Boot award as well!