The former Mohun Bagan forward is ahead of Lionel Messi, and only behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the list of highest active international goalscorers.
Performances, one after another. Records, one after another. If scaling heights was a day job, Indian legend Sunil Chhetri would be the Edmund Hillary of it. Chhetri, at 34, has seen everything and won et al in Indian football. He’s one of the greatest footballers to grace the SAARC countries, and is on the list of Asian icons – no mean feat. After the game against Curacao, he overtook Bhaichung Bhutia to have played the highest number of matches for the Indian national team.
Now, the Bengaluru FC skipper has registered 68 goals in 108 record-breaking appearances for the Blue Tigers.
The Arjuna awardee eclipsed his and Bhaichung Bhutia’s record of 107 international appearances for India
As his career progressed, Chhetri has slowly and steadily understood his body better and keeping his goal scoring aside, just his longevity defines how brilliantly and dedicatedly he has taken care of his body while playing at the highest possible level in the country. At the press interaction before the team left for Thailand to participate in the King’s Cup, Chhetri downplayed the record. “I have never got time to sit back and think about how much I have achieved. I am just happy that I am playing for my country, happy that I am training. What’s really good is that I am really enjoying now,” he said.
He added, “I don’t take it too seriously. I don’t get carried away. Such moments won’t last forever. I want to enjoy every bit of it.”
East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers, Dempo SC and Bengaluru FC are clubs Chhetri have played for in India, and has a mean CV on the international circuit as well. The Secunderabad-born lad has played for Sporting Lisbon B (where he trained with the likes of Eric Dier) and also plied his trade for Kansas City Wizards in the States, featuring against Manchester United in a friendly.
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Chhetri is India’s poster boy and even at his age, he feels he’s in perfect shape. “It may sound strange, but I am the fittest in my life at the moment. It’s a bit weird when I say this, but it’s true,” he stated.
“I think the knowledge and discipline is the highest in my life right now, in terms of taking risk, in terms of having the right food, and in terms of training, and that’s probably why I am this fit,” quipped the Padma Shri awardee.
Chhetri is now ahead of a host of Indian football legends
For a man who has scored more goals than Lionel Messi at the international level, Chhetri is still as humble as it gets. He makes headlines for all the right reasons, and the work-rate he still puts in even after achieving so much is what makes him dearer to the national fanbase. He’s still the most hardworking forward India possesses, and that’s what makes him special. The way he managed to scale up the pitch and match up to Udanta Singh’s speed against Myanmar makes him a thorough professional and a special breed.
India is lucky to have him, and will be lucky to hold onto him for as long as he can ruffle the back of the net. Such players come once in a while, and we should wait for the next time he steps onto the pitch. The talisman will be gearing up for a third-place clash against Thailand in the King’s Cup, on 8th June 2019. The SAFF nation lost to Curacao in their opening fixture, which was bittersweet. But the upcoming match could also be the start of a new rivalry between the War Elephants and Blue Tigers, after the latter beat the former in the AFC Asian Cup.