The India skipper matched the Argentine magician’s mark after scoring a brace in the Intercontinental Cup final.

Indian football has the right man at the right time. The one man who gets everything right – Sunil Chhetri. 

Not a lot of players have matched up to the heroics of the blessed Lionel Messi. But, far away from the humdrum of European football and South American finesse, a man who goes by the name of Sunil Chhetri did that on a semi-dry, semi-humid night in the suburbs of Mumbai. A lot has been written and talked about the opposition and the quality of football, but a realistic look must be taken at the quality of the game he’s been accorded with.

Chhetri has equalled Lionel Messi in the list of active international scorers

In a parallel universe, the legend of Chhetri would not have been diminished. A man who stands at just 5 ft 7 inches has taken Indian football by the collar and shaken it up in a way that generations will remember. The striker has scored 64 goals in just 102 appearances, averaging way more than both Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, easily the most out-worldly players in world football at the moment.

On being asked of equalling Messi’s mark, Chhetri said, “”I don’t take it seriously. It’s not even fair. The two players who are above me are completely world stars. I am a big fan of [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo. There is a massive difference between them and us. There is no comparison at all.”

“I am just happy that I could score 60-plus goals for my country. I just see and look at it for five seconds and forget about it,” he added.

Starting off in a subdued city in terms of football, Chhetri hails from Delhi, not known for its prowess even at the national level. However, the baby-faced man with a boyish charm did not allow that to stop him. The heights that he has reached are no fluke and he’s done it with grit, determination and hard-work. Sheer hard-work.

Chhetri recently played his 100th international match for India

When he called out to the nation to come follow the national team, he was putting on a wager. If the side did not complement his calls with performances, Indian football could have seen a boomerang effect. Fans flocked in and the man himself ensured that they kept coming back. With eight goals in four outings at the Intercontinental Cup, Chhetri has certainly eclipsed his already high standards (and expectations).


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Coming back to reality, Chhetri must not be compared with the Ronaldos and the Messis on the simple context of quality of opposition. On the contrary, these demi-gods have received training facilities that would put Elon Musk to shame for a minute. Not questioning their work-ethic, talent or drive for a second, but Chhetri deserves his own special status. Period.

Now, that he’s already equalled Messi’s international record, do you think Indian football’s go-to man can equal Ronaldo’s feat? Chhetri, with his drive and fitness, has at least two years of top-level football left in him and it would be cruel if injuries come in the way. At his strike-rate, nothing is impossible.

 

Well, Indian fans, you’ve your own freak of nature and drive and as Bhaichung Bhutia correctly said ‘wrap Sunil Chhetri in cotton wool’ because he’s the one that India rides on, at least for the moment. AFC Asian Cup, the man is coming to get you.