Striker Sunil Chhetri is widely considered to be the best football player in India history. Sunil Chhetri holds the record for scoring the most goals with the Indian national team and he is the third-highest active international goal-scorer currently after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Despite never playing a single FIFA World Cup, India has had a glorious heritage in football. In fact, India used to compete at the continental and Olympic levels on a regular basis in the past. However, over the years, that competitiveness has faded away and the Indian national team is struggling to recreate that old magic.
With that being said, though, India has witnessed its fair share of legendary players. Many of these players have gone on to make history and attain a lot of fame and success even from the international audience.
So, who is the best football player in India and which players qualify for the top 5 list? Let’s find out:
Best football player in India – Top 5 list
|Player||Position||Active between||Teams played for|
|Sunil Chhetri||Forward||2002 – present||Bengaluru FC, Mumbai City FC, Mohun Bagan|
|Bhaichung Bhutia||Forward||1993 – 2015||East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, United Sikkim|
|IM Vijayan||Forward||1987 – 2006||Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Churchill Brothers|
|PK Banerjee||Forward||1954 – 1967||East Bengal, Mohun Bagan|
|Sailen Manna||Defender||1940 – 1960||Howrah Union, Mohun Bagan|
Sunil Chhetri is by far the most famous footballer in India. He is widely regarded as the greatest Indian football player of all time and has achieved plenty of success with the Indian football team. Chhetri is the highest goal-scorer in the history of the Indian national team and has scored 85 goals in 133 matches.
The Indian captain is the third-highest active international goal-scorer after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He has a goal-scoring ratio of 0.64 goals per game which is higher than both Messi and Ronaldo.
Also Read: Sunil Chhetri vs Messi
Chhetri began his career playing for Tata Football Academy before he joined Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan. He spent two seasons there without much prominence and then secured a move to East Bengal where he made nearly 150 appearances between 2002 and 2007.
Chhetri had also moved to Portugal to play for the B side of Sporting Club de Portugal. However, he didn’t make any appearances due to injury and returned home to India instead. Chhetri has also played for Major League Soccer side Kansas City Wizards.
The 38-year-old has been with Bengaluru FC and has captained them since 2013. He has won both the I League as well as the Indian Super League with the team and Chhetri has also represented Mumbai City FC. Chhetri also holds the record for being the second-highest goal scorer in the ISL with 56 goals so far in 135 appearances.
Chhetri has received the Arjuna Award, the Padma Shri and the Khel Ratna Award for his services to the sport of football in India. There is no doubt that Chhetri is the best Indian footballer of all time.
Bhaichung Bhutia is also considered to be one of the best football players in India and he was extremely famous. Dubbed the ‘Sikkimese Sniper’ because of his excellent shooting skills, Bhutia was the torchbearer for Indian football players in the international arena. He is one of the first Indian footballers to sign a contract with a football club in Europe and only the second player in Indian history to play professionally in Europe after Mohammed Salim.
Bhutia had begun his career in the Tata Football Academy before shifting to Kolkata to play for the national giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. He also had a stint with Bury in England and Perak FA in Malaysia.
Bhutia was also captain of the India National Team from 2003 till 2007. Under the leadership of Bhutia and head coach Stephen Constantine, the Blue Tigers managed to reach their highest FIFA ranking at 98th position in 2006 before dropping down to 166th spot in 2007.
Bhutia has the second most international appearances for India (80) after Sunil Chhetri and he has scored the third most goals (29) after Chhetri and IM Vijayan. He is also the second youngest international goal scorer for India when he scored at the age of 18 years and 90 days.
Bhutia has been conferred with the Arjuna Award and Padma Shri honours and he played his farewell match against Bayern Munich in 2012.
IM Vijayan is one of the most legendary names in the Indian football scene. The former striker was known by the nickname Kalo Harin which translated from Bengali means Black Buck. Vijayan has been crowned the Indian player of the year in 1993, 1997, and 1999 and in fact, he was the first person to win this award multiple times. He is also a recipient of the Arjuna Award.
Vijayan had begun his playing career with Kerala Police and he spent five years there before moving to Mohun Bagan. The former Indian captain has also represented clubs like JCT Mills Phagwara, East Bengal, and Churchill Brothers. He formed a lethal attacking partnership with Bhaichung Bhutia at the club and national team level in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Also Read: Famous players in ISL
Vijayan served as a captain for the Indian national team between 2000 and 2004 and he is the second-highest goal-scorer for the Indian national team with 34 goals in 71 appearances. He also holds the record for being the first player to score a hat-trick in a FIFA World Cup qualifier.
Vijayan currently serves as a member of the technical committee of the All India Football Federation and has helped develop young players of calibre in his home town since retiring from football.
PK Banerjee is a former striker who is one of the most respected names in the footballing landscape of India. He has not only been the captain of the national football team, but has also coached the Indian team. He has appeared in 45 international matches for the Indian team and has scored 15 official goals.
Banerjee helped the national team to win the gold medal in Asian Games in 1962 and they also finished runners-up at the AFC Asian Cup in 1964. Even as a manager, he led the side to a bronze medal at the Asian Games in 1970 and he is one of India’s most decorated footballers.
In fact, PK Banerjee was one of the first recipients of the Arjuna Award and the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) named him the Indian footballer of the 20th century. He was also awarded the FIFA Order of Merit in 2004.
Banerjee also had a wonderful partnership with his teammates Chuni Goswami and Tulsidas Balaram and they were collectively known as Indian football’s Holy Trinity.
Sailen Manna is one of the best defenders in the history of Indian national football. He played for the national team between 1948 and 1956 and he predominantly played as a left-back. Manna also holds the honour of both representing and captaining India in different international competitions including the Olympics and the Asian Games. He also won the Asian Games gold medal in 1951.
Also Read: Best defenders in ISL
Manna began his playing career with Howrah Union in 1940. It is only when he joined Mohun Bagan in 1942 that his career began to rise. Manna represented Mohun Bagan, one of the oldest and most decorated clubs in India, for 19 consecutive years till his retirement in 1960. He was also captain of the Mariners between 1950 and 1955.
Manna’s leadership skills were widely celebrated in the country. He was the only Asian footballer to be named among the ten best Captains in the world by the English FA in 1953. Following his retirement from football in 1960, he went on to coach the Indian football team where he managed several legendary players like PK Banerjee, Tulsidas Balaram, Chuni Goswami, Jarnail Singh, and Peter Thangaraj.
Who are the best goalkeepers in Indian football?
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Subrata Pal, Bhaskar Ganguly, and Peter Thangaraj are some of the best goalkeepers in the history of Indian football.
Who are the best Indian football players in 2023?
Sunil Chhetri, Sandesh Jhingan, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, and Anirudh Thapa are some of the best Indian football players these days.