The Indian football team skipper recently overtook Brazilian legend Pele with 80 International goals.
At 37, Sunil Chhetri has become the first Indian footballer to be named the winner of the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award. A forward by trade, Chhetri has been playing for the country for almost two decades now.
Speaking about his journey after winning the honour, Sunil Chhetri said, “It is beyond a dream. A wonderful journey which wouldn’t have been possible without my family, my friends, my wife, my close group, the players that I’ve played with, the coaches that I’ve played under, the masseurs, the doctors.
And I say this because all of them are equally important for whatever I’ve achieved in the number of years I’ve played for the country,” he added.
In an interaction with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the captain also recalled his interactions with Bob Houghton in his early years at the Indian football team camp. “I remember how Bob Houghton used to say, ‘Make sure you grasp everything and give your best for the national team because your career for the national team is not long enough’. He used to give us a time span of about 10 years.”
However, the Bengaluru FC star has exceeded those limits and is showing no signs of stopping soon. “There is nothing else that gives me happiness truly than the fact that I play for my country,” he added.
Being the first Indian footballer to receive this award is surely of much respect and honour to Sunil Chhetri, who is loved throughout the country.
“When I got the award, I was completely thrilled and I’m really thankful and honoured. These things don’t usually come to my mind. I’m unable to think about them and probably that’s why my life is pretty easier. I don’t take too much stress. I don’t think long-term because it phases out. That’s how it works for me,” Chhetri revealed.
The attacker has played 125 matches for the national team since his debut on June 12, 2005 against Pakistan. Recently in the SAFF Championship, he surpassed the international goal tally of Brazilian Legend Pele and is currently on level terms with Argentine great Lionel Messi with 80 goals.
Regarding the records which he has broken, Sunil Chhetri felt, “I am just happy that I get an opportunity to score for my country and that’s about it. When I see my name there, although for just five seconds, I feel happy and proud that I could do something for my country.”
“I don’t get into the stupid cocoon of comparing myself with all the greats because that is not true. Anyone who understands football will understand this,” he continued.
Sunil Chhetri’s presence in the national team has been a sign of hope to the fans. Whenever the team is in trouble, the skipper has consistently pulled up his weight and has often turn the tables in their favour. In the past few years, he has also been an inspiration to many young footballers. But from whom does the skipper himself get inspired?
“The amount of inspiration and encouragement around us is so much. There are so many extraordinary athletes. And not only athletes but because I’m a sportsperson, I’m biased. I watch and learn and read a lot about sportspersons,” he revealed.
He also went onto add that it is not only personalities attached to various sports who inspire Chhetri. “Around the world, there are so many of them who will inspire you if you just have a look. Just the hunger of trying to learn more is needed and you will seek so many inspirations. For instance, people who came out and helped people under the COVID-19 circumstances were extraordinary. If you want inspiration, it is all around,” he concluded.