In June 2005, the Indian football team arrived in Pakistan, worrying coach Sukhwinder Singh was very much missing his star striker Bhaichung Bhutia who was ruled out because of injury. Coach Sukhwinder needed a good competitor to compete for a big match.
He said, “It was a nightmare for me that Bhaichung wasn’t available. It was in Pakistan, and I knew the pressure would be immense. I needed someone who had the trickery, didn’t have any fear and had to be quick.”
Then comes the young lad Sunil Chhetri, coach Sukhwinder was very much expecting a lot from the young Indian striker. “He was short, and in front of physically strong defenders at the international level, did he have a chance?” added coach Sukhwinder.
One day later, in the Ayub Stadium of Quetta, Sukhwinder started with Sunil. Chhetri did his best in the 65th minute. The teenage boy picked up the ball inside the box and placed it behind the keeper. None to shy away, Chhetri managed to run to celebrate with the Pakistani fans but ran back to his teammates rapidly when they decided playfully not to join.
Since then it has been 15 years. And one can definitely say that the young boy has turned himself into a legend of Indian football. It has been 5480 days when Sunil Chhetri first stepped foot in football wearing the blue jersey and playing for India.
He is 10th highest goal scorer in international football, he has scored 72 goals from 115 matches playing for the Indian national team. He made turned himself from maybe to a regular player of the Indian football team.
“I’m fortunate enough to have a few of them (standout moments) that I can pick from, but if I have to put my finger on one moment, it would be my India team debut against Pakistan. That’s the moment you dream about and it’s also the moment you keep looking back on to draw the courage and motivation to go on,” he told Firstpost about his best memories.
Subrata Bhattacharya spotted the young man and brought him to India’s legendary club Mohun Bagan to play alongside another legend Bhaichung Bhutia.
Initially, Subrata Bhattacharya was not impressed with Sunil’s performance “When you are assessing young footballers, perhaps once in a lifetime, a player would come along to lift your heart. I probably did not feel that way that morning. But what I did see were two teenagers who showed hints of promise, and loads of desire, and ambition. Those two kids were Sunil Chhetri and Subrata Paul.”
With 15 years of playing for the Indian National Football Team, Sunil Chhetri still wishes to continue playing.
We are at a time when Sunil Chhetri might hang his boots soon, and yet we have been unsuccessful in finding who can continue where Sunil leave it.