The ace striker is the all-time highest goalscorer of the Indian football team.
Captain, leader, legend – it is a phrase that is often utilized to describe Sunil Chhetri. The beacon of hope at the end of a gloomy tunnel, the Indian skipper is a treasure that the country is blessed to possess. Despite the numerous obstacles that the nation faces in order to make its mark in football, there is always a hope, a belief that all is well as long as Sunil Chhetri leads the team out on the field.
When the shoulders drop and expectations diminish, the talisman rises to the occasion to offer a ray of enlightening vision, aspiration and intent as others bog down due to the sheer pressure of the game. As Sunil Chhetri turns 36-years-old, there might be some wretched faces that continue to wonder about the fate of the sport in India when the captivating striker hangs his boots.
As the masses ponder upon the legacy that the Bengaluru FC striker will leave behind once he calls it a day, it seems to be an appropriate occasion to reflect upon some of the most iconic records that Sunil Chhetri holds in his career. Statistics cannot pass a verdict on a player of his stature, but they surely paint a beautiful picture of the feats that he has achieved in his journey so far.
10. Only Indian footballer to sign for three foreign clubs
In his 20s, Sunil Chhetri attracted plenty of interest from international clubs. He has prior experience of representing the likes of Kansas City Wizards and the reserve team of Sporting Lisbon. However, it is important to note that Chhetri had signed a three-year contract with Queens Park Rangers in 2009 too.
However, he was unable to secure a work permit, as India did not feature in the top 70 of the FIFA rankings at that point in time. Nevertheless, that does not take away the fact that Sunil Chhetri is the only Indian player to have signed a contract with three foreign clubs.
9. Only Indian footballer to play professionally in three continents
The Bengaluru FC captain has played for several clubs in India. Additionally, he had a short stint with Kansas City Wizards of the Major League Soccer (MLS) in the USA from 2010-11. In 2012, Chhetri signed a deal with Sporting Lisbon and represented the club’s reserve team in the Segunda Liga (now LigaPro), which is the second division of Portuguese football.
Accordingly, the striker became the first Indian player to play professional football in three continents, which are, Asia, North America and eventually Europe. Hardly has any Indian footballer boasted of such a versatile and diverse profile.
8. Most hat-tricks by an Indian in the ISL
Sunil Chhetri has bagged two hat-tricks in the ISL so far, which is the most by any Indian player to have played in the league. He scored three goals in Mumbai City FC’s 5-1 victory over NorthEast United FC in October 2015. Two of these strikes were through spot-kicks, which is another aspect of the sport in which the veteran has arguably attained mastery.
More importantly though, he nicked three goals in the second leg of the semi-final against FC Pune City in the 2017-18 season of the ISL. Bengaluru FC were trailing by a goal coming into the second leg of the tie and Sunil Chhetri seized the moment by notching a hat-trick and leading his team to the final in their very first season in the ISL.
7. Most hat-tricks for Indian football team
The stalwart striker also holds the record for scoring the most number of hat-tricks for the national team. He has scored hat-tricks on three different occasions playing for the Blue Tigers.
Sunil Chhetri has notched a hat-trick each against Tajikistan, Vietnam and Chinese Taipei each in 2008, 2010 and 2018 respectively. The one against Tajikistan was especifically remarkable, as it was in the final match of the AFC Challenge Cup.
6. Highest Indian goal-scorer in NFL and I-League combined
With his strike against Aizawl FC in a 1-1 draw in February 2017, Sunil Chhetri had added another feather to his cap. The striker became the highest Indian goalscorer in the National Football League and the I-League combined, as he has notched 90 goals in both these competitions together.
He overshadowed Bhaichung Bhutia’s tally of 89 goals to claim the feat and thus created a significant personal mark in one of the most prestigious football leagues of the country.
5. Highest Indian goalscorer in the Indian Super League
Unsurprisingly, Sunil Chhetri is also the highest Indian goalscorer in the Indian Super League. Having bagged 39 goals in 74 matches for Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC combined, the influential skipper has managed to create a mark that any other domestic forward is far from replicating.
Chhetri is infact second in the list of the highest goalscorers in the ISL, with only Ferran Corominas topping him as the Spaniard has notched 48 goals since the 2017/18 campaign.
4. Named as AIFF Player of the Year most number of times
The All India Football Federation has a tradition of naming an individual as the ‘Player of the Year’ annually. Sunil Chhetri has been conferred with this title on six occasions, which is the most number of times any player has been decorated with this honour.
IM Vijayan was awarded the same thrice, whereas Jo Paul Ancheri and Bhaichung Bhutia have been recipients of this award twice. Chhetri has won this prize in five out of the last eight seasons, which further highlights his commendable performances for the national team in recent years.
3. Second highest active goalscorer in international football
It will be a travesty to assume that Sunil Chhetri’s efficiency in goalscoring appears fantastic only among domestic players. The 36-year-old is actually the second-highest active goalscorer in international football, with only Cristiano Ronaldo who has 99 goals in 164 appearances for Portugal surpassing him.
2. Most goals for the Indian national team
Sunil Chhetri has been extremely prolific whilst leading the forward line and the 72 goals that he has notched in 115 international appearances is a testament of that. Furthermore, he has put the ball into the back of the net in crucial tournaments.
He has bagged seven goals in 16 FIFA World Cup Qualifying matches and four of them in nine AFC Asian Cup Qualifying games. Additionally, Chhetri has risen to the occasion in the all-important AFC Asian Cup too and has netted four goals in five matches in the continental competition.
1. Most appearances for the Indian national team
Consistency is probably a term that best describes Sunil Chhetri and it is visible through the number of times that he has been capped by the national team since his debut in 2005.
Having donned the Indian jersey for the senior team on 115 occasions, he is far ahead of Bhaichung Bhutia who is the second-most capped player with 82 matches to his name.