By Elton Gomes
Striker Sunil Chhetri has climbed to the third spot in the international highest active goalscorers’ list. Continuing his record-breaking streak, Chhetri now shares the spot with Spanish forward David Villa and is only behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Both Chhetri and Villa have now scored 59 goals. Ronaldo occupies the number one position with 81 goals to his name. Argentine talisman Messi is in second place with 64 goals.
On Friday, Chhettri scored a hattrick in India’s first match in the Intercontinental Cup in Mumbai. With this, Chhetri took his overall tally to 59 and surpassed United States’ Clint Dempsey, who is inthe fourth spot with 57 goals.
In the match against Chinese Taipei, Chhetri found the back of the net within 14 minutes and received immense support from his strike partner Jeje Lalpekhlua. Chinese Taipei head coach Garry White praised Chhetri for his stellar performance,“They (Chinese Taipei) got a chance to see a player like Sunil. He’s brilliant for my youngsters to see what a senior should do. The players will see what type of work he does.”
In 2017, Chhetri surpassed England striker Wayne Rooney in the international scorers’ list and occupied the fourth spot. The top two positions were still occupied by Ronaldo and Messi, while Dempsey was at number three. Even though Chhetri was then positioned at number four, his strike rate was reportedly better than that of Ronaldo and Messi. Chhetri recorded a strike rate of 0.57 against Ronaldo’s rate of 0.52 and Messi’s rate of 0.49.
From playing for Sporting Lisbon to being recommended for the Padma Shri, Chhetri has garnered substantial praise throughout his career. In 2013, Chhetri overtook India’s favourite footballer Bhaichung Bhutia in terms of the number of overall goals scored.
Making a mark for Indian football can be difficult in a cricket-crazed country, but Chhetri has managed to bring football in the limelight. He made headlines at the global stage when he was signed by Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon to play in the club’s B team.
Bhutia highly encouraged Chhetri’s move and urged him to give exceptional performances, “Whether you sign for B, C or D team, if you perform well there is no limit for it. I think the great thing is that he has got the opportunity to play. If he does well in B, he can move up to A.”
While the prolific duo of Bhutia and Chhetri have given Indian football international attention, contributions of other Indian footballers cannot be forgotten.
Outstanding Indian footballers
This list will certainly be incomplete without the name of Climax Lawrence. With 74 caps to his name, Lawrence was fierce and quick on the field. An integral part of the Indian football team, Lawrence netted the 91st-minute winner in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup final against Afghanistan.
The first Indian footballer to receive the Padma Shri – Gostha Pal – was a menace for strikers. Pal earned the nickname Chiner Pacheer (Wall of China) for his ultimate physique. Pal has a statue erected opposite Eden Gardens in Kolkata. The surrounding street was also named after him.
Sailendra Nath Manna, popularly known as Sailen Manna, was another outstanding footballer from India. Under Manna’s leadership, India bagged gold in the 1951 Asian Games and won the Quadrangular Tournament on the trot from 1952 to 1956. Manna is the only captain to be featured in the list of 10 best captains of the world by the Football Association of England.
I.M. Vijayan scored a goal against Bhutan in just 12 seconds – he still holds the record for the third fastest goal in International football. Nicknamed the Kalo Harin (Black Buck), Vijayan was often termed the Pele of Indian football. Vijayan was, at one point, the highest paid Indian footballer.
The ambassador of Indian football during the nineties, Vijayan termed Bhutia as ‘god’s gift to Indian football’. In his exemplary career, Bhutia was known to make over 100 appearances for India and has roughly scored 40 goals. German champions Bayern Munich played in Bhutia’s farewell match in January 2012.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.
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