Sunil Chhetri is an Indian professional footballer who plays as a striker or winger and captains both the Indian Super League side Bengaluru and the Indian national team. Popularly known as Captain Fantastic, having scored the second highest number of goals in international matches among active male players after Cristiano Ronaldo, he is both the most-capped player and all-time top goalscorer for the Indian national team, with 72 goals in 115 appearances He is the current captain of the national team. Sunil Chhetri was named an ‘Asian Icon’ by AFC on his 34th birthday.
Chhetri began his professional career at Mohun Bagan in 2002 He then moved to JCT where he scored 21 goals in 48 games. He signed for the Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer in 2010, becoming the third player from the subcontinent of note to go abroad. However, that stint in the United States did not last long and soon he was back in India’s I-League where he played for Chirag United and Mohun Bagan before going back abroad. This time he was signed by Sporting Clube de Portugal of the Primeira Liga where he played for the club’s reserve side.
He helped India win the 2007 Nehru Cup, 2009 Nehru Cup, the 2012 Nehru Cup as well as the 2011 SAFF Championship. He was also one of India’s best players during the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup in which India won the tournament and thus qualified for their first AFC Asian Cup in 27 years. He then led India in scoring during their short-lived campaign at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup with two goals. Chhetri has also been named AIFF Player of the Year a record six times in 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018–19.
Chhetri began his professional football journey with Mohun Bagan of the National Football League after playing with City FC of New Delhi. After his first season with the club, the 2002–03 season, Chhetri had scored four goals as Mohun Bagan finished in seventh place in the table. The next season, Chhetri scored only two goals. The first came against Sporting Goa while the second came against Indian Bank as Mohun Bagan once again finished in the bottom half of the table, in ninth place. Chhetri then once again scored only two goals during the 2004–05 season; this time Mohun Bagan finished eighth in the league and remained in the National Football League on goal difference
In 2005, Chhetri signed for JCT for the 2005–06 season. During that season, Chhetri scored three goals. He scored twice against Salgaocar before the third came against Sporting Goa, as JCT finished the season that year in sixth place. Meanwhile, in the Santosh Trophy, Chhetri scored two hat-tricks for Delhi in the group stages of the 61st Santosh Trophy against both Orissa and Railways. However, despite Chhetri’s best efforts, Delhi were eliminated in the pre-quarter final round after losing 1–0 to Tamil Nadu in extra time.
Then, during the 2006–07 season, Chhetri scored a total of eleven goals in the league for JCT as the club finished in second place, behind Dempo. Among his best games during that season were the matches against his former club Mohun Bagan and Dempo in which he scored braces in both matches as JCT won both games 2–0 and 3–2 respectively.
Then, during the very first season of the I-League, Chhetri scored seven goals as JCT finished the season in third place.His only brace that season came against Salgaocar during the final match of the season. Midway through that season though, in December 2007, Chhetri was awarded the AIFF Player of the Year award for 2007 for his excellent form and performances for his club and country.
Chhetri was loaned out to Bengaluru for the 2015–16 I-League season, where he ended up scoring 5 times in the league, thus helping his team win the league title for the second time in three years. He also scored twice in a round of 16 match against Kitchee in the 2016 AFC Cup, helping his side to an unlikely 2–3 win away from home. This would be the first time Bengaluru had reached the quarter finals of the tournament.
On 9 June 2016, Bengaluru announced that Chhetri had signed a one-year contract at the club, thus reverting his ownership rights to the club from Mumbai City. Chhetri scored twice as Bengaluru won the 2016 AFC Cup Semi Final tie by beating Johor Darul Ta’zim in Bengaluru. Chhetri’s second goal was a 30-yard strike, where he received the ball from C.K. Vineeth, beat one defender and unleashed a screamer to give Bengaluru the lead.
He scored 14 goals for the club in the 4th season of the Indian Super League and was also the Indian top scorer of the league. He became the second top scorer for Bengaluru on the league. He went on to win the ‘Hero of the League’.
On 30 March 2004, Chhetri played his first game for the Indian U-20 team in the 1–0 victory over Pakistan U-23 team in the 2004 SAF Games in Pakistan. On 3 April 2004, Chhetri scored twice for the Indian U-20 team against Bhutan U-23 team in their 4–1 victory On 12 June 2005 Sunil scored his first goal for the senior India national football team against Pakistan
On 15 October 2019, Chhetri has become the only Indian to secure a place in the list of top 10 footballers who’ve scored maximum goals in international football.
Sunil Chhetri was born on 3 August 1984 to K. B. Chhetri, an officer in the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers of the Indian Army, and Sushila Chhetri in Secunderabad, Telangana, India. His father played football for the Indian Army’s team while his mother and her twin sisters played for the Nepal women’s national team. Chhetri started playing football from a young age taking part in various tournaments
On 4 December 2017, Chhetri married his long time girlfriend Sonam Bhattacharya who is the daughter of the former Indian national football player and Mohun Bagan legend Subrata Bhattacharya. He signed a 3 year deal with sponsorship deal with global sports giant PUMA India starting from 2020.
Awards and accolades
- 2011 − Arjuna Award, by the Government of India in recognition of his outstanding achievement in sports
- 2019 − Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award