The talismanic striker has been the face of Indian football for long.
It’s August 3. Let us give you a good news and a bad news. Sunil Chhetri, the poster boy of Indian football, turns 35 today, an year older (Well, only because fans would love him to play forever). That’s bad news. The good news is he looks in the best shape, is still scoring like always and there’s no stopping him.
As the Bengaluru FC captain turns a new page in his life, we give you 35 facts from his well-celebrated life. Let’s go!
1. The top scorer for the Indian national team with 71 goals. Can anyone from the next generation topple him? Looks unlikely.
2. He scored twice on his Nehru Cup debut against Cambodia in 2007. Well, India won the game 6-0. It was a special start. He’s also the second highest active international goalscorer, only behind Cristiano Ronaldo.
3. The man scored his first hat-trick against Tajikistan in 2008, in the prestigious AFC Challenge Cup. Always one to rise to the occasion!
4. Chhetri had played for four top Indian clubs before his first international stint, for Kansas City Wizards in the United States started. The clubs were – Mohun Bagan, JCT, East Bengal and Dempo. This man has travelled!
5. He made his debut for the Blue Tigers in 2005, and played exactly five games. Not bad for the beginning of a great career, was it?
6. He’s scored the most goals against Chinese Taipei, totaling six in five appearances. Also, he has been awarded the AIFF Footballer of the Year six times in his career till now. No easy feat, right?
7. He has a special relationship with the number seven and Chirag United. The striker played and scored seven times for the Kolkata club that changed its name to United SC and currently plays in 2nd division of Kolkata football.
8. Chhetri scored eight times in last year’s Intercontinental Cup, earning the top scorer’s cap. This was the same tournament during which he made that famous request on Twitter. When the captain calls, the nation listens!
9. In the prestigious and now rechristened Nehru Cup (rebranded as the Intercontinental Cup), he scored nine times in just fourteen appearances. Smooth from the start!
Watch: The Rise of Indian football with Sunil Chhetri
10. The man has played in more than several attacking roles throughout his career, but the No. 10 position hasn’t been his favorite ever. That extra bit of space on the wing or operating near the box excites him!
11. His jersey number. A hashtag whenever he plays. #SC11
12. He’s played in 12 FIFA World Cup qualifiers matches so far, scoring six times. One for the big stage!
13. In his only season at Dempo (arguably one of his finest in India in terms of footballing ability), he played 13 times and was on the score-sheet eight times. The Dempo faithful still remembers a few stories of him!
14. He re-started his Kolkata connection with East Bengal in 2008, and played 14 times for the Red and Gold Brigade. He scored just one shy of 10! Nine unstoppable finishes!
15. At the turn of next year, his international career for the senior team will turn 15. He’s still on the prowl and we wonder where he derives his hunger from!
16. He had a dull ’16, scoring just once for the national team. But boy, it was the special free-kick against Puerto Rico in the FIFA friendly in Mumbai!
17. Chhetri’s finest year for the national team, in terms of the number of games he played, came in 2011. India played the AFC Asian Cup, the man scored against Bahrain, and in total scored 13 times! A whopping 13 times!
Sunil Chhetri celebrates his 35th birthday on August 3
18. He’s played 18 times for the arch-rivals of East Bengal in the first sojourn, Mohun Bagan, and has scored eight goals for them. Sweet for someone who started his career at the Mariners!
19. When he became the second Indian to reach to 50 International goals, 19 of them had come in friendlies. A lot of goalkeepers have complained that he’s not friendly on the pitch! (winks)
20. In the 2014-15 season, he played 20 times for Bengaluru FC and scored just twice. In actuality, he had been shifted from the No. 9 to the No. 11 position and he was still adjusting to it. Early days, and the best also have bad days!
21. He played for the now defunct JCT, the club that won the inaugural National Football League in 1996. And guess how many times he scored for them in three years? 21! It isn’t bad for a season with just around 15 games each.
22. He’s played the most number of games in the I-league in Bengaluru FC’s inaugural season. The man ended it with 14 goals, being the club and the league’s top scorer. He was joined by Cornell Glen and Daryl Duffey at the top. One amongst the rest of the world!
23. The first taste to national glory came in 2007, when ‘Captain Fantastic’ was 23. India won the Nehru Cup, beating Syria in the final. Chhetri had announced himself in style, scoring four times.
24. At 24, his dream run in Kolkata started as he signed for East Bengal. The journey wasn’t long, but it sure was one to remember as he scored nine times in 14 games!
Chhetri played against Manchester United for Kansas City Wizards in 2010. (Courtesy: Zimbio)
25. It was July 25, 2010, that Chhetri made an appearance against Manchester United. Yes, the MANCHESTER UNITED. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. For a boy, it was a dream come true. For him, it was regular course!
26. In his debut season at the Kanteerava, as Bengaluru FC romped to the I-league title, the man donned the Blues’ jersey 26 times. He had a stunning 15 goals to his name. Consistent!
27. Since 2015, the man has turned into a monster. He has ruffled the net 27 times for the Blue Tigers in just 35 matches. And he’s overthrown Lionel Messi from the race, at least for a while!
28. In total, Chhetri has scored 28 goals in 39 friendlies. You know what we feel about that already! His debut goal for East Bengal also came in the 28th minute, against Chirag United on September 26, 2008. And you thought we were going to repeat a feat? Naah!
29. Remember Chirag United? The erstwhile Kolkata club? Well, Chhetri played for them too. His most memorable game for the team was against ONGC when he rescued them with a brace in a 2-2 draw. The date? April 29, 2011.
30. Remember that wonderful strike in the semi-final of the AFC Cup against Johor Darul Ta’zim? It came from 30 yards! Oh, I still get goose bumps at the sight! Also, he’s mustered 30 ISL goals and is the second highest scorer in the tournament’s history.
Watch: Rapid fire round with Sunil Chhetri
31. He became the most expensive Indian footballer at the Indian Super League auction in 2015 at the age of 31, when Mumbai City FC picked him up for 1.2 crores. The man was setting records at an age when footballers reach the twilight of their careers!
32. Mohun Bagan had won the I-League couple of years ago and guess who’s played 32 times for them? The man who’s celebrating his birthday on August 3. Well, he’s not done too badly for himself, has he?
33. This one took us a little long, but we got there. Chhetri made 33 tackles in the last ISL season, making four interceptions, 15 clearances and seven blocks. He’s not a headless chicken running behind, he makes good use of all the hard work he puts in. He’s a defending teammate’s guardian angel!
34. He wrote history books last year, when he earned ‘Asian Icon’ by the Asian Football Confederation for his contribution to the game. Long awaited!
35. At 35, he’s still going strong. With India in a mixed group for the World Cup and AFC Qualifiers, it’ll be another challenge for Chhetri to pull his team through. Can he do it? Sure he can.
Until then, let’s just wish the man, who’s become a goal machine, a very happy birthday.