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Sunil Chhetri vs Baichung Bhutia: Comparing the Torchbearers of Indian Football

Sunil Chhetri is currently the joint-second highest goalscorer amongst active players
Sunil Chhetri is currently the joint-second highest goalscorer amongst active players
Deepak

Sunil Chhetri and Baichung Bhutia have been the pioneers of Indian football such that when one tries to name 2 footballers of Indian football, it is these 2 names that crop up first to their minds.

While Baichung had a 16-year long career with the Indian national team that ended in 2011, Sunil Chhetri is still the mainstay of Indian football even 13 years after he began in 2005.

Though the comparisons between the two are futile, let us try to see them both through the angle of an outsider and analyze their contributions to Indian football.


#1 Appearances and Goals

Baichung Bhutia had one spell with Bury in England
Baichung Bhutia had one spell with Bury in England

Baichung Bhutia started his club career with East Bengal in the year 1993 and later went on to play for multiple clubs like Mohun Bagan, JCT Mills, United Sikkim etc.

He had a stint with Bury, a league-two club of English football where he made 37 appearances for them. He also had a Malaysian experience, first with Selangor MK Land in 2005 and second time with Perak FA while being on loan from Mohun Bagan in 2007.

In total, he has made a total of 226 appearances for various clubs while scoring 100 goals. His international career with India started in 1995 and he made 84 appearances, scoring 27 goals.

Sunil Chhetri, on the other hand, began his career with Mohun Bagan in 2002 and went on to play for clubs like JCT, East Bengal, Dempo, Churchill Brothers, Bengaluru FC, and Mumbai City FC.

He had a stint with American club Kansas City Wizards in 2010 where he did not make any appearances while his stint with the reserve team of Portuguese football club Sporting CP saw him make 3 appearances for them.

In total, as on 14th December 2018, he has made a total of 242 appearances for various clubs while scoring 120 goals and is still going strong. His international career with India started in 2005 and he has made 103 appearances while scoring 65 goals.

#2 Awards and Achievements

Sunil Chhetri still have more than a couple of years of football left in his legs
Sunil Chhetri still have more than a couple of years of football left in his legs

Baichung Bhutia won the Arjuna Award for football in 1998 while Sunil Chhetri won it in 2011. Bhutia was awarded Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India in 2008 while Sunil is yet to win it. But he has time in his hands to do that.

Bhutia was inducted into the Asian Football Hall of Fame in 2014 while Sunil Chhetri was awarded AFC Asian Icon title in 2018. The former has been awarded the AIFF Player of the Year award 2 times in 1995 and in 2008 while Sunil has made a habit of winning it, scooping up the award 5 times so far.

Sunil Chhetri currently stands as the player who has received the most number of AIFF Player of the Year awards.

Baichung Bhutia had taken the Indian football to AFC Challenge Cup once in 2008, SAFF Championship thrice in 1997,1999 and 2005, Nehru Cup twice in 2007 and 2009.

Sunil Chhetri was also part of the same AFC Challenge Cup squad in 2008 and the Nehru Cup squad in 2007, 2009. After the retirement of Baichung, Sunil took the Indian team to the Nehru Cup title in 2012 and SAFF championship in 2011 and 2016.

#3 Style of Play

Sunil Chhetri can play anywhere across the front line
Sunil Chhetri can play anywhere across the front line

While Chhetri could play as a striker or a winger depending on what the team wanted, Baichung played his career predominantly as a striker. Another footballing great I. M. Vijayan described Bhutia as "God's gift to Indian football" and he truly is a Gods gift.

His shooting prowess in front of the post earned him the nickname ' Sikkimese Sniper "while his humble down to earth nature earned him respect from even his rivals.

Though Bhutia did not have a great association with Mohun Bagan towards the end of his career, the fans of Bagan still respect him as much as the East Bengal fans do. A rare feat to achieve considering the rivalry of the two clubs.

Sunil Chhetri is ultimately a team man and has done wonders for both his clubs and the country. His association with Bengaluru FC has been a long one with more than a 100 appearances.

One can say that Sunil Chhetri has been one of the reasons why Bengaluru FC has emerged as one of the top clubs in Indian football. His story is right in front of us and the "Captain Fantastic" has the unique record of having scored the joint 2nd most goals in international football matches among active players with Lionel Messi after Cristiano Ronaldo.

#4 Influence on the team

Baichung Bhutia made Indians stand up and take notice
Baichung Bhutia made Indians stand up and take notice

Baichung Bhutia has been the first Indian footballer that influenced the youth of the country. His stints at foreign clubs were envied by many and other young footballers got the belief that they too can do it.

Not only has Sunil Chhetri carried on the torch that Baichung lit up in the Indian football, but he has taken Indian football to greater heights than ever before.

His fan-following and the support among the fans is second to none as was evident from his appeal to the fans to turn up for the intercontinental cup matches.

One can say that Sunil Chhetri is better than Baichung Bhutia in terms of stats, but that's more like saying Virat Kohli is better than Sachin Tendulkar.

While its impossible to compare 2 players from different decades and say who was better, it is important to understand their contributions to Indian football and acknowledge that both of them were legends.

Edited by Debjyoti Samanta

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