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Why did National Captain for football, Sunil Chhetri, have to beg for support?

Why did National Captain for football, Sunil Chhetri, have to beg for support?

Rishav Paul

Published: 3 Jun 2018 10:48 AM GMT

In a video released recently on Twitter, via Chhetri’s own official handle @sunilchhetri11, Sunil Chhetri urges, and one might very well say, begs the Indian public to come and watch the Indian national football team play, with folded hands.


This comes after the Indian team produced an excellent performance to outclass Chinese Taipei 5-0 in front of near empty stands at the Mumbai Football Arena. This, even after the Indian football team has put in consistent performances over the last couple of years to climb into the top 100 of the FIFA rankings. Let us pause for a moment here.For a moment, the enorimity of a national captain having to resort to this leaves us quietly stunned.

Sunil Chhetri. Easily the most recognizable name in Indian football today. Having already plied his trade with some of the best professional football clubs in India, and having made a name for himself both in Major League Soccer in the United States and in Portugal’s Premiere Liga, Chhetri is now nearing a landmark hundred international appearances for his country as well. Though diminutive in physical stature, Chhetri’s quick runs into the box and his penchant for scoring goals from well-nigh impossible angles have made him instantly recognizable, both on and off the field.

Why, then, does he have to plead with the Indian public to attend games played by the national team?

Chhetri’s spells with the legendary Kolkatan I-League clubs Mohun Bagan and East Bengal towards the start of his career, though nothing short of impressive, threatened to leave him overshadowed by Baichung Bhutia, another famous Indian footballer whose career had started out in Kolkata too.

However, he quickly made a name for himself, helping the Indian national team to victory in the 2007 and 2009 Nehru Cup, the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup and the 2011 SAFF Championship. Besides being the top-scorer for India at the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup where Baichung Bhutia was declared the Most Valuable Player, Chhetri was also player of the tournament at the 2011 SAFF Championship, a performance which probably won him the 2011 Arjuna Award recognition from the Indian government. Why, then, does he have to post videos on social platforms to beg his own countrymen to come and appreciate the effort he puts in for his country?

Chhetri has played for a host of professional clubs in India. Besides the usual stints at East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Dempo, Chhetri also helped Churchill Brothers to their second ever I-League title in 2013.His 14 goals and 7 assists in 23 appearances were instrumental in Bengaluru FC winning their first ever I-League title in their debut season itself. In the 2014-15 season, he helped Bengaluru FC win their first ever Federation Cup, scoring six goals in that tournament.

At the auction for the 2015 edition of the cash-rich Indian Super League, Chhetri was the most expensive Indian player, commanding ₹ 1.2 Cr for his services to Mumbai City FC. He was also part of the 2016 I-League winning squad of Bengaluru FC, scoring 5 goals on loan from Mumbai City FC, thus helping Bengaluru canter to their second I-League title in three years. In the 2017-18 season of the I-League, he finished the top scorer among Indian nationals with 14 goals. Why, then, must he ‘agree’ with the armchair critics of the Indian populace in saying that Indian football is nowhere near European football in terms of quality?

Can you imagine Virat Kohli grovelling for popular support in pursuit of greater attendance at a match featuring the Indian national cricket team?

Do you think you’ll ever have to see Mahendra Singh Dhoni post videos urging people to come watch matches of the IPL team Chennai Super Kings? The most recent edition of the IPL saw CSK playing to packed houses, even though they didn’t even play at their hometown for the majority of their season.

In the video, Chhetri asks the fans to “abuse us, criticise us, but please come to watch the Indian national team play.” And that is something a sportsperson, much less the skipper of the national team, should never have to say. With a 
hattrick against Chinese Taipei
at the ongoing Intercontinental Cup, Chhetri has moved to 59 goals from 98 official international games; the same as one David Villa, World Cup winner, Euro winner with Spain. The only two active players, who have more international goals than him, are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but his international goal average is significantly better than that of both these footballing megastars. In the video, Chhetri claims that India stand at somewhat of a crossroads on the footballing landscape, and he is right. Indian football has witnessed something resembling a Renaissance, with teams like Kerela Blasters, NorthEast United and Shillong Lajong coming increasingly into the limelight, and less fancied teams like Aizawl FC and Minerva Punjab winning the I-League. On the national front, India has qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, and
even managed to make it past the first round of qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup
, though they eventually failed to qualify. But then again, so did Italy!

With Stephen Constantine at the helm, and Sunil Chhetri wearing the armband, Indian football has certainly seen a steady resurgence.

If we can spend our time and money to watch and passionately cheer for professional clubs in faraway countries, we can certainly do it for the clubs in our country. If we can tune into our television sets and paint our cheeks in the colours of the flags of various other countries like Argentina, Brazil and Portugal during the FIFA World Cup, then we can easily ‘bleed blue’ for our national football team when they play for our flag.
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