Euro 2020 Special
 

FIFA presents Captain Fantastic – A Sunil Chhetri story – An overview

Indian national football team captain Sunil Chhetri, the third-highest active goalscorer in international football with 84 goals, was honoured by FIFA with a three-episode documentary titled ‘Captain Fantastic’.

This three-part series, which is available to watch on FIFA+, is a step forward for Indian football, given their ‘captain, leader, legend’ in Chhetri has earned renewed recognition to put India on the global football map.

While the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi continue to dominate international football, the presence of Sunil Chhetri on the same stage is a boon for Asian footballers in general.

Chhetri’s career has seen him not only represent some of the biggest clubs in Indian football, but he is among a select few to have played overseas with stints at Kansas City Wizards and Sporting Club de Portugal.

And while he is nearing the final stage of his playing career, the Arjuna, Padma Shri and Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna awardee has remained as calm as he would be; stating that he would just ‘enjoy’ the remainder of his time on the pitch.

 

Episode 1 – The rise of India’s Kohinoor in football

The first episode of the FIFA documentary begins initially with Sunil Chhetri’s early beginnings. His mother is Sushila Chhetri, a former Nepal football player and his father, ​​Kharga Chhetri, an officer in the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers of the Indian Army.

Sushila recounted Sunil’s first tryst with football began as early as a two-year-old, while his father – who used to play in tournaments in the regiment – also mentions how the father-son pair would play on the days he would visit home from the army.

2002 marked the first breakthrough in Sunil Chhetri’s career. He joined Mohun Bagan, and it was a surprise move as he never played at the Under-16 or Under-19 level, recalls former India team-mate and captain Bhaichung Bhutia.

The credit for spotting a then 17-year-old Chhetri and taking him onboard the Kolkata club goes to Subrata Bhattacharya, a former Mohun Bagan player and coach, and his future father-in-law.

The episode then takes a detour to how Sunil Chhetri met his wife Sonam and how they bonded over football even when they were in a relationship.

In 2005, Sunil Chhetri joined JCT after being scouted by then-coach Sukhvinder Singh after his performances in the 2004 Federation Cup. Sukhvinder oversaw Chhetri’s development in terms of skill and physique, and the latter earned his maiden call-up to the Indian national team.

 

Episode 2 – India debut, captaincy and the dream to go global

Sunil Chhetri, a then 20-year-old, made his debut for India against Pakistan on their home turf in Quetta in June 2005. He marked the occasion by netting the first goal of the game – and his senior career – in the 65th minute.

A hat-trick from Sunil Chhetri against Tajikistan helped India win the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup and qualify for the 2011 Asia Cup for the first time in 24 years.

His performances marked the beginning of his dream to go global in 2009. Do good and good comes to you; this quote sits well for Chhetri as he bounced back after suffering heartbreak from his trial for Coventry and failing to get a work permit to sign for Queens Park Rangers.

He would secure deals with Major League Soccer team Kansas City Wizards (2010) and Portugal’s Sporting CP (reserve team, 2012).

Sunil Chhetri ventured into his first outing as India’s captain in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in 2011, and the very next year, he was awarded the Arjuna Award.

 

Episode 3 – Marriage with Bengaluru FC, titles, breaking scoring records and present status

Barring a single season with Mumbai City in 2015 – where he became the first Indian to score a hat-trick in the Indian Super League, Sunil Chhetri has had a trophy-laden career at Bengaluru FC with seven trophies to his name.

Besides two I-League titles and two Federation Cups, Chhetri would win the 2018-19 ISL, the 2018 Super Cup and most recently, the 2022 Durand Cup. This means he has claimed every trophy possible in Indian football.

Along the way, Sunil Chhetri broke many scoring records, such as the highest goalscorer in Indian football, the highest scorer in the Indian Super League and the most ISL hat-tricks by an Indian.

Off the field, the Indian captain would go on to marry his long-time partner Sonam Bhattacharya in 2017 and be rewarded with the Padma Shri (2019) and Khel Ratna (2021).

A hard worker, a dreamer, a pioneer and a champion of the sport in India, Sunil Chhetri – in his own words – will be remembered as ‘somebody who gave his best’.

 

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