Sunil Chhetri: Captain, Leader, Legend – Thank You

    Sunil Chhetri: Captain, Leader, Legend - Thank You

    Sunil Chhetri will retire from international football after the FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Kuwait in Kolkata on June 6

    Sunil Chhetri called time on his international career as he took to social media to announce that the joint FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup Qualifier match against Kuwait in Kolkata on June 6 will be his last for the Blue Tigers.

    Chhetri first stepped onto the grass in Indian colours for his international debut against Pakistan on June 12, 2005.

    Scoring 94 in 150 matches, Chhetri is the third most prolific scorer in international football among active players, behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and fourth overall.

    He has helped the Indian men’s football team win the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008, the SAFF Championship in 2011 and 2015, the Nehru Cup in 2007, 2009 and 2012, and the Intercontinental Cup in 2017 and 2018.

    Chhetri was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2011, the Padma Shri in 2019, and the Khel Ratna, the first footballer ever to receive the award, in 2021.

    Those are the numbers as 19 years later the ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ readies for “one last dance”.

    A Plea That Changed Everything

    As for the man behind the goals and the accolades, Chhetri’s public plea to fans will forever go down in sporting history as one of Indian football’s saddest yet greatest moments.

    In 2018, Chhetri took to social media to post a video of what can be best described as a ‘lightning in a bottle’ moment.

    He had said: “To all of you, who have lost hope and do not have any hope in Indian football, I request you to come and watch us in the stadiums. It is not fun to criticise or abuse on the internet. Come to the stadium, do it in our faces, scream at us, shout at us, abuse us and who knows, one day we might change you guys. You might start cheering for us.”

    For a captain of an Indian team, be it in any sport, to take it upon himself to ask his country to come out to support and watch the team play in the stadium was unprecedented. When was the last time something like this happened? But then again this is India, and this is football.

    Vande Mataram

    The fans did come, and some stayed back, despite the deluge of disappointments.

    Those who did were part of India’s greatest moments on the sporting field in recent memory.

    In July last year, a soldout crowd at the Kanteerava sang ‘Vande Mataram’ as the rain lashed down in Bengaluru. Chhetri, on the pitch, soaked it all in.

    The question – ‘after Chhetri, who?’ – has been thrown around for quite some time. Yet aged 39, the answer has up until now been him. Maybe the question itself is misleading. There is and never will be anyone like him to replace him. He is and will remain – Captain. Leader. Legend.

    Courtesy: News18

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