Sunil Chhetri: India's most promising young footballer
As a sequel to my very first article on Indian football, this piece looks at the most promising talent in Indian Football. Sunil Chhetri is currently experiencing the spotlight that very few Indian footballers can achieve in this cricket crazy country. Yet the Delhi boy, born in the picturesque hilly town of Darjeeling at the foothills of the Himalayas who could could have represented Nepal through his parentage, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. Sunil Chhetri is on a long journey and has in his way garnered the kind of football stardom rarely experienced in this country.
Under the guidance of national coach Bob Houghton, Chetri has been able to develop himself as a potential successor of Bhaichung Bhutia, the current Indian national team captain who for years has been the sole flagbearer of a stumbling football nation.
Bhutia’s experience at the highest level has been of great help to Chhetri, the protégé. Both the players have developed a very close relationship between themselves over the past few years under Bobby Houghton and their close friendship has been evident on the football pitch too as the two helped India to the prestigious Nehru Cup. They won it back to back and then followed it up with the AFC Challenge Cup. This victory turned out to be a passport to the 2011 Asian cup in Qatar.
With Bhaichung clearly entering into the twilight of his massive decade-long international career, the 25 year old Chhetri has been provided with an added responsibility of leading India’s next generation strike force .
Being short in stature did not hinder Sunil Chhetri to pursue a career in football which is a very dicey career choice in India. Starting off in a local Delhi club was all that he wanted and his talents brought the attention of big national clubs in the forms of Mohun Bagan, JCT Mills and East Bengal. Currently playing for MLS side Kansas City Wizards, Chetri has already drawn attention of English Championship side Leeds United and several second division Portuguese sides like Estoril Praia and Liga de Honra had offered him the passport to a career in Europe. While the offers from the Portuguese clubs came during the Indian team’s visit to Portugal last year for a preparatory camp, Bob Houghton is using his own English sources to land Chetri in the United Kingdom.
The diminutive striker, to be frank, is finding it hard to adjust to the physical nature of the American football or soccer as it is known in the US but that does not mean Chetri would be another old Indian story of being discarded overseas. Having found out that Sunil is having problems with Kansas City, it is reported that Bob Houghton has advised the player to join the team’s Asian Cup preparation camp in Portugal.
KC Wizards are reportedly interested in letting him play for the national team rather than warming the bench in the US and this might just be a blessing in disguise as Chetri would again have the chance to shine in front of European scouts. 2010-2011 could prove to be an important season for Chetri and India as Houghton’s boys embark on a new international year preparing in earnest for the Asia Cup in 2011 and the 2012 Olympic qualifiers.
This could be the year when Sunil Chetri gets his chance to prove himself against the likes of Australia, South Korea and Bahrain and the success of the country would depend on how the lion-hearted Gurkha takes on Asia’s best under the watchful eyes of Robert Douglas Houghton. The diminutive striker may not have high-profile skills but his ability to get behind the defense with sheer pace in addition to his tremendous ball control and shooting are important traits that could be utilized at a very high level, be it at international or club levels.
Sunil Chetri, after Baichung Bhuitia, is the second Indian to play against Manchester United when he was brought on as a second half substitute last month and played for twenty one uneventful yet proud minutes in KC Wizards’ 2-1 friendly win over the legendary English team. With Mr.Houghton encouraging Indian players to head to the west by following into the footsteps of their Chinese, Japanese and Korean counterparts; Indians might not have to wait long enough to see one of their countrymen plying their trade in the green pastures of European football community.
Indian football needs figures such as Sunil Chetri and we Indians need to come out of our shell and believe in the boys that are trying hard to give this country something new in the arena of international sport.
Make us believe it Sunil.