Indian football after Sunil Chhetri - 3 players who can take up the goalscoring mantle for India
Ask any Indian football fan from any corner of the country about their favourite player and one name would head the list. Sunil Chhetri it is!
Amid lots of ups and downs, Indian football has finally found a new beginning. From the news of Star India bagging the television rights to the Indian senior men's team inching closer to the AFC Asian Cup 2019 qualification dream, everything has found a perfect timing.
However, keeping aside all the positives and looking deeper into the large scheme of things, you will find a daunting question - is there any guy who can fill Chhetri's place once he hangs his boots? This is the question which hasn't been asked often but will soon become a burning issue in Indian football.
Chhetri, the talismanic striker and "Captain Fantastic" who turned 33 this August, has always been the front-runner in carrying the burden of expectations of the highly passionate Indian fans. The Secunderabad-born footballer, who started his Indian national team career back in 2005, was always regarded as the next big thing in Indian football after Bhaichung Bhutia.
In fact, he became the torchbearer after Bhutia and continues to be so. He came into the limelight at the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup after scoring a vital hat-trick against Tajikistan in the final. That has gone down in history books as a milestone event as it meant India qualified for the Asian Cup after a huge gap of 27 years.
Although India fared ordinarily at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, Chhetri took the chances that came his way and showed his brilliance by scoring against Asian top dogs like Bahrain and South Korea. He also had short foreign stints abroad but couldn't continue for long as he prioritized more playing time.
Having played under different coaches, be it for the Indian team or at the club level, Chhetri has always earned their respect.
The flash which the Indian team showed by qualifying for the 2011 Asian cup didn't last long. They failed to defend their title in 2012 AFC Challenge Cup which meant the doors for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup remained closed.
Amidst all the hullabaloo regarding the performances of the team one thing was always consistent - Chhetri's performance! He always played to his full potential in order to make the team be on the winning side. But football as a team game requires collective skills which wasn't the case with the Indian team.
Although the likes of Jeje Lalphekhlua, Udanta Singh, Balwant Singh and Robin Singh have shown promise in the forward line, the lack of consistency is starkly visible. And with Chhetri inching towards the final lap of his career we look at some bright prospects who can carry the burden in the near future like their senior did for a long time.
1. Manvir Singh
A youth product of Minerva Punjab, Manvir Singh has already scored for the Indian U-23 team once - in the recently concluded AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers in Qatar. He recently made his senior India debut in the friendly against Mauritius, as he came on as a substitute for Jeje Lalpekhlua in the 87th minute.
With more matches under his belt, he can go on to become a lethal strike force for the Indian team.