The captain of the Indian national football team, Sunil Chhetri is a forward who currently plays for the Indian Super League side Bengaluru FC. The 37-year-old is the highest goal-scorer for the national team and is widely regarded as one of the best footballers to play for India.
Born on August 3, 1984, in India’s Secunderabad, Sunil Chhetri had realized his passion for the game at an early age, given his family’s close connection with the sport. Sunil’s father, K. B. Chhetri, an officer in the Indian Army’s Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, played regular football for the Army. At the same time, his mother and two sisters represented the Nepal women’s national team. Sunil Chhetri started his youth career at Gorka TC before making the significant move to City Club Delhi.
Sunil Chhetri: Club Career
Sunil Chhetri’s first significant move in club-career took place in 2002 when he joined Kolkata football giants Mohun Bagan AC. However, his lack of experience saw him making just 18 appearances for the club over three years, and he managed to score eight goals.
His performances, however limited, didn’t go unnoticed as JCT FC (Jagatjit Cotton & Textile Mills FC) came calling in 2005, assuring him a regular place in the starting eleven. The move materialized fast, and Chhetri ended up making a significant mark for the club, scoring 21 goals in 48 appearances. The youngster was soon turning heads with English football side Leeds United and Portugal football club Estoril Praia rumoured to be interested in the striker.
However, a move abroad wasn’t coming anytime soon, and Chhetri decided to return to Kolkata, this time for Mohun Bagan AC’s archrivals East Bengal. Sunil Chhetri’s stint with the Red and Gold Brigade lasted for one season, where the player scored nine goals in 18 appearances. Journeyman Chhetri spent a similar solitary season the next year with Goan side Dempo, where he scored eight goals in 13 appearances.
Chhetri’s ability to find the net regardless of his familiarity with the coach or teammates got the attention of Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas City. The Indian finally travelled abroad to pursue his dreams. However, it wasn’t to be as the striker returned without making any senior appearances for the American side and joined Chirag United in 2011.
A hungry Chhetri scored seven goals in seven appearances for Chirag United and was repurchased by Mohun Bagan as their main goalscorer. Sunil Chhetri scored eight goals in 14 games for Mohun Bagan this time before Sporting CP, the boyhood team of Cristiano Ronaldo, came calling.
Sunil Chhetri tried his luck with the Portugal club but made just three appearances for the reserve team before getting loaned back to Churchill Brothers in 2013. Chhetri’s scoring boots were triggered again as he ended up scoring four goals in eight games to help Churchill Brothers to an I-League title.
The pattern was quite evident now as everyone realized that Sunil Chhetri was a prolific goalscorer on Indian soil. The striker didn’t harbour any foreign dreams following that and focused on cementing his credibility on the home soil with Bengaluru FC, a stint that lasted two years with Chhetri scoring 16 goals.
The advent of the Indian Super League finally saw Chhetri getting the worth of his talent. Ahead of the ISL season 2, Mumbai City FC paid a whopping Rs 1.2 crores to rope him in as Sunil Chhetri became the most expensive Indian player at the auctions. With MCFC, Sunil Chhetri became the first Indian player to score an ISL hat-trick and remained their top scorer for the 2015 season with seven goals to his name.
However, MCFC went overboard by roping in World Cup star Diego Forlán and Sony Norde, thus leaving very little space for Chhetri, and he was soon loaned out to Bengaluru FC again. It was then that Chhetri found a connection with the club as he helped them win the I-League and put up commendable performances in the AFC Cup. Bengaluru FC soon secured Sunil Chhetri’s services as a full-time player, and there has been looking back since. For Bengaluru, Sunil Chhetri has played over 200 games so far, with over 90 goals to his name already.
Sunil Chhetri: Goals by Clubs
|Mumbai City FC||17||7||0|
|Churchill Brothers FC||13||6||0|
|Sporting CP B||3||0||0|
|Sporting Kansas City||0||0||0|
Having plied his trade for over 20 years now, Sunil Chhetri has played in different tournaments at the club level that ranges from Indian and American to European competitions. Here are all the competitions that Sunil Chhetri has scored.
Sunil Chhetri: Goals by Competitions
|Indian Super League||95||43||8|
Sunil Chhetri: International Career
Unlike the topsy turvy club career, Sunil Chhetri’s run in the international circuit has been a historical one. Before he made his senior national debut for India at the 2007 Nehru Cup, Sunil Chhetri had very little time to play for the India U-19 side, scoring two goals in three games.
The fact that Sunil Chhetri was destined to take the Indian national football team ahead was evident in his very first tournament. He had scored four goals in India’s 2007 Nehru Cup campaign against Cambodia, Syria and Kyrgystan. India would win the tournament for the first time since 1997 and thus began Chhetri’s dominance as they would win the 2009 and 2012 Nehru Cup as well.
Yet another tournament where Sunil Chhetri loved to score was the SAFF Championship, which he helped India win three times – 2011, 2015 and 2021. A noticeable contribution by Chhetri at the international level was at the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, where he would score four goals playing alongside Baichung Bhutia to help India qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup. Before that, India hadn’t qualified in the tournament for 24 years.
Sunil Chhetri was handed the captain’s armband ahead of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup and he hasn’t been disappointing. Indian team’s then-coach Bob Houghton had once described Sunil Chhetri as, “He is remarkable, brave and honest. He never gives up.”
And he wasn’t wrong. Fast forward to 2022, Sunil Chhetri has a whopping 80 goals as he sits in the sixth position, level with Lionel Messi, on the list of players with the most international goals. Here are all the international competitions where Sunil Chhetri has scored.
Sunil Chhetri: Goals by International competitions
|World Cup qualification||38||18||0|
|South Asian Football Federation Championship||38||34||12|
|AFC Challenge Cup||26||14||0|
|Asian Cup qualification||16||8||0|
|AFC Asian Cup||12||8||0|
Sunil Chhetri is the only Indian footballer named the AIFF Player of the Year a record six times – 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018–19. Apart from this, he has also received the Arjuna Award in 2011, the Padma Shri Award in 2018 and the Padma Bhushan Award in 2021.
Sunil Chhetri has also won the FPAI Indian Player of the Year in years 2009 and 2018, the AFC Challenge Cup Most Valuable Player in 2008, the SAFF Championship Player of the Tournament in 2011, the Hero of the I-League for the 2016–17 season, and the Hero of the Indian Super League for the 2017–18 season. Such has been Chhetri’s aura that fans even compare his contribution at the international level with Cristiano Ronaldo. You can see the Sunil Chhetri vs Cristiano Ronaldo blog here.
Sunil Chhetri: International Goals by Years