Why Sunil Chhetri has already broken Bhaichung Bhutia's record of most number of international caps for India
Ahead of the Asian Cup 2019, the build-up was around India's charismatic striker Sunil Chhetri equalling a record held by former Indian national football team captain Bhaichung Bhutia.
Many news outlets reported that the Bengaluru FC captain was only three games short of equaling the Sikkimese Sniper's record for the most number of caps by an Indian in international matches.
However, simple calculations show that Sunil Chhetri has already surpassed the 107-mark set by Bhaichung Bhutia.
If one calculates all the matches that Chhetri has played, he has recorded 112 appearances for India. This includes a category called age-group internationals, which are mainly U-23 matches that a player is a part of. If one takes into account even the age-group internationals that Chhetri has played, he has 112 matches.
Bhutia has made 107 appearances for India and this includes age-group internationals.
However, when one excludes Sunil Chhetri's age-group international matches like the 2004 Islamabad South Asian Games, 2006 Doha Asian Games, and the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, the number reduces to 104.
AIFF considers Bhaichung Bhutia's age group matches and not Sunil Chhetri's
According to a veteran statistician of Indian football, the rules during Bhaichung's era and Chhetri's era were different. Then All India Football Federation's outgoing General Secretary Alberto Colaco and Delhi Soccer Association President Subhash Chopra presented a memento to Bhutia on his 102nd match against Kyrgyzstan as he became the first player to represent India for more than 100 times.
But, they later realized that FIFA wouldn't take into account the Asian Games, Pre-Olympic Qualifiers, and other unofficial FIFA matches when registering his name in the record books. The AIFF wanted a special case to be made for Bhutia and FIFA obliged. After that, the highest governing body of football in India, AIFF, scrapped the practice to include unofficial matches and age-group tournament matches thereafter.
Hence, when data of Indian footballers who are active after Bhaichung Bhutia are compiled, the age-group internationals are not counted as full internationals by the AIFF. As a result, in the official records, the total number of international matches played by Sunil Chhetri is written as 104 whereas that of Bhaichung Bhutia is 107.
Who has made the most number of international appearances for India?
The answer is Sunil Chhetri. If one includes only senior official FIFA matches, Bhaichung Bhutia's tally decreases to 82.
In the 1995 Nehru Cup, Uzbekistan sent its U-20 team whereas Russia sent its 'B' team. In the 1997 Nehru Cup, Ghana sent its 'B' team and Uzbekistan fielded its youth side. Even in 1998, India played Uzbekistan twice and these were not full internationals as the Uzbeks had sent their 'B' side.
The twin friendlies against Uzbekistan similarly between 2002 and 2003, the four matches at the 2002 LG Cup, and the four matches at the 2003 Afro-Asian Games are unofficial games according to FIFA.
If one takes into account these unofficial matches also, Bhaichung's number only goes up to 98. Bhutia has totally played nine age-group matches.
If one includes age group internationals of both the footballers while assessing the data, Sunil's figure surges to 112 while that of Bhaichung Bhutia rises only up to 107.
However, only for official purposes, Chhetri's tally is 104 and Bhutia's tally is 107.
Here are all the international matches played by Bhaichung Bhutia:
Here are all the international matches played by Sunil Chhetri: