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Sunil Chhetri lives his dream

A rejection, they say, is nothing more than a step in pursuit of success. For Sunil Chhetri, it was a baptism by fire. The Delhi lad on Friday officially signed a contract with the Kansas City Wizards, becoming the first Indian footballer to play in Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States.
Confirming the deal via a teleconference from their team headquarters in Kansas City, an elated Chhetri thanked his coach and supporters in India and promised to keep his ‘best foot forward’.

Sunil Chetri

From left: Kansas City Wizards coach Peter Vermes, Sunil Chhetri and executive vice-president Greg Cotton at the team headquarters in Kansas City on Thursday night.

“I’m very happy to be part of the Wizards and I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I have come here to learn and I want to put my best foot forward.  Coming from a country that is 132 in the world to one which is in the top 20 is a great move and I’m very excited.  I will give my 100% in training daily and try to improve and be a better player. I want to thank the club, my friends and fans in India for their support,” Chhetri said.
With this move, the former Dempo striker will also become the third Indian player to play overseas after Mohammed Salim’s Celtic stint in pre-Independence era and India skipper Baichung Bhutia’s three-season campaign with Bury FC from 1999-2002.
Though the Wizards management refused to reveal contractual and monetary details, Chhetri’s agent Yogesh Joshee said the striker had been signed for four years.
However, the 5”7 striker must obtain a P-1 visa and the All-India Football Federation must hand over his international transfer card before he can play. “Obtaining the ITC may take nearly a week or more therefore Chhetri will not be able to play in the team’s season opener against D.C. United on Saturday,” Joshee said.
Last year, the striker failed to perform in the trials for English second division side Coventry City and was also denied a work permit to join another Queens Park Rangers because of India’s dismal FIFA ranking.
Describing the vast gap in terms of football infrastructure between India and the US, Chhetri stressed that better facilities will improve the standard of the sport in the sub-continent. “The facilities that we enjoy in India are nowhere close to what a player gets here. Everything here is extremely professional and the facilities are fantastic. Things like the training pitches and the changing rooms are top class. I know these are small details but unfortunately in India most players don’t have access to this,” Chhetri added.
He thanked the AIFF and Dempo FC for the support they showed in releasing him in time so he could seal the offer. “As we were fighting for the I-League title, it was difficult for Dempo to release me. But they were very supportive and I am grateful to them,” he said.
Furthermore, Chhetri rubbished claims of being the ‘next Bhutia’ and leading the national side in the future. “Bhai (Baichung) is the best that India has got and will ever get. He is perfect captain material and we don’t want anyone else as captain. I’m unhappy listening about comparisons. I have my own identity which I would like to build on,” he added.
Terming Chhetri as a ‘crafty’ player, Wizards coach and manager Peter Vermes said the youngster showed amazing adaption to the team’s style of play and weather conditions. “He’s a very crafty player. During his Arizona trials in March, Chhetri, in a very short period of time, adapted brilliantly to the team’s style of play, something which is quite unusual. He is very instinctive, has a brain for football and his hard working nature tells me he can make a real impact,” Vermes said.
Dreams of playing against the likes of David Beckham can wait for now, says Chhetri, as he plans to take it one at a time. “I have no long-term goals as of now and I’m concentrating more on the team and playing my first game. It’s been easy to adapt so far as the team plays a similar way to how the Indian national team does,” he added.
Last but not the least, Chhetri had one inspiring message for upcoming players in India. “When you’re young, you don’t really plan where you are going to play or how things will work out. I’m glad that I have been able to land up here. My message to young footballers would be to just enjoy the game and play with your heart and things will fall into place,” he said.

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