Sunil Chhetri - Mine, ours, Bengaluru’s very own
As I found my sweet spot on my own bed after another special night at our Fortress, I thought to myself, “What would we do without him? Where would we be without him?”
I’ve tried to come up with a justifiable answer to that but so far, I’m as close to finding an answer to that as Bangalore’s airport is to the city centre.
But who is he? Why is he the central character of this narrative? And why am I writing this?
He is Sunil Chhetri. Captain of the Indian National Football Team. Captain of Bengaluru Football Club. He is the central character of this narrative because — let’s face it — he just always is, he just always wants to be. And, I am writing this because he makes my life better and puts a smile on my face every time I watch him.
What did he do now?
Well, how do you fancy a hat-trick on a huge night in front of around 25,000 people? Just another day in the life of the great man.
It was a semifinal. A semifinal of a tournament we’d never been in before. A tournament that everyone other than us wants us to be unsuccessful in.
We were in a precarious position — one goal conceded, and we could well have our dream shattered in front of our eyes.
For starters, he was never going to let any of our dreams be shattered.
The final was scheduled to be held at the Kanteerava, our home, our Fortress.
There’s no way that could’ve happened without a Sunil Chhetri, without Bengaluru FC or without the famous West Block Blues.
At least, there was no way Sunil Chhetri was letting that happen.
Minute 16. He picks up the ball in midfield. Swish, a sweet turn, and Rafa Lopez is seemingly out of the picture. But Rohit Kumar falls back to nibble at his feet again. Swish. Another turn and the great man is away. He sets up Udanta Singh, who dangles the ball in front of Sahil Panwar like a carrot for a rabbit.
Sahil wasn’t the quickest rabbit around, so Udanta can have his fun and games. Bengaluru’s Flash is a cheeky man. He then gets bored — or maybe feels a tinge of pity for 18-year-old Sahil, and decides to send in a cross for the other defenders to deal with.
They don’t. When that man is around, the words “they don’t” is a death knell.
Chhetri doesn’t get the cleanest contact on it with his head.
But on a day like this, who cares about the aesthetics! He’s off on a run and is quickly caught up by his team-mates.
"Chhetri! Chhetri! Chhetri!"
We’re well into the second half, now. Nails are being bitten. There’s more squeakiness in West Block bums.
Chhetri has it on the left wing. Tries to play it to Miku, ends up playing a one-two off Sarthak Golui, who is on his own merry dance. He’s in a trance — left to it by the tunes played on Chhetri’s feet.
He tugs Chhetri back, the great man shrugs him away. Golui loves Chhetri (who doesn’t?!). So Golui won’t go away even after the shrug. So Golui pushes him down.
Penalty pandemonium! Yet, it had to be put away.
He chips it down the middle. It was so slow, old men on their morning walk at nearby Cubbon Park could’ve caught up with the speed of that projectile.
But unfortunately, for Pune keeper Vishal Kaith, only the ball was slow.
With his speed of thought and speed of vision, the great man had fooled Kaith. Like Udanta on Sahil, Chhetri dangled the carrot in front of the rabbit that is Kaith. But once again, the rabbit proved too slow.
For the big man who was doing his own things on this stage that he owned, it seemed routine. He seemed to harbour guilt for making Kaith look like an idiot. You just scored a mammoth goal in a semi-final; celebrate, don’t apologise! That’s for the normal man, not for Sunil Chhetri.
We’re biting more nails. We’re hearing more squeaks in bums as Pune find a goal. One more goal and we’d be banished.
He’s 33. He’s spent 90 minutes running his heart out, putting his life on the line. So when Dimas Delgado picks the ball up in midfield, is he going to stop?
No, he isn’t. Of course, he isn’t. He’s past the defender before he knows it, he’s one-on-one with Kaith. Did the young Pune stopper stand a chance? Nah, of course he didn’t.
The ball obeyed the master’s orders. The ball nestled in the bottom left corner and there was delirium! He ran towards us, hurdled the advertising hoarding, we wouldn’t know because we were in a trance of our own! A kiss for an adoring missus and he was back on the field. There was a job to finish.
He doesn’t like being the butt of a joke. He didn’t like the West Block Blues cheekily saying “Toni 1-0 Chhetri” — a reference to the Spaniard Toni Dovale having gotten a hat-trick for the club when he hadn’t.
He didn’t like it, so he set it right. And then proceeded to remind everyone about, in front of the cameras.
Pointing towards the West Block during his post-match interview, he said, “Just for them now, it’s Toni 1–1 Chhetri.”
The ray of hope
He isn’t perfect — hell, who is?! But he is everything we could ask for from a man who leads us. Will we go to war when he’s front of the line? Oh, behave, ask better questions!
Despite the few years that The Fortress has bellowed out “We’ve got Chhetri, Sunil Chhetri, I just don’t think you understand!”, I don’t think enough people have understood. I don’t think the world has understood what he can do, or how he can do those things or why he does those things.
I don’t want to understand those things either, I want him to give me more such moments. I want to tell my kids, my grandkids and everyone I know, that there was once a man who could give me happiness like no one else could.
I want to tell them that there was once a man who stood tall amidst a hell of a lot of doom and gloom that surrounded Indian football.
For now, Indian football could be in a worse situation, but it could also be in a lot better. It is fair to say that there is one man who still gives everyone hope. One man who is still that shining light. One man who refuses to accept the darkness.
That man is mine, he is Bangalore’s, he is India’s. He is, after all, our captain, our leader… Our legend!