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The search for India’s next Sunil Chhetri is poised to be a lengthy one

The search for India’s next Sunil Chhetri is poised to be a lengthy one

Sayan Chatterjee

Published: 19 Jan 2021 12:42 PM GMT

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Indian football has, for more than a decade now, been carried by the able shoulders of Sunil Chhetri. Since his arrival on the scene in the early 2000s, he has not only managed to fill the void left by the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia but also inspired an entire generation to take up the sport and excel at it. The 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) campaign has seen a number of young Indian players making their mark in a big way. However, with Chhetri nearing his 37th birthday, there still seems to be no one in sight who could take over the goalscoring mantle from the Blue Tigers and Bengaluru FC captain.

Out of the 147 goals that have been scored in this season’s competition, only 30 have been scored by Indians. That comes to a meagre 20.4% of the total goals. Sunil Chhetri has himself scored four of them, which takes the number to 26 for all of the others combined. A genuine dearth of quality centre-forwards coming through the system is one of the major reasons. Moreover, the fact that very few coaches have employed Indian strikers to lead the line has also contributed towards that.


You couldn’t fault them though. Out of those 26 goals, only 10 have come through players who have played as out-and-out strikers at some stage in their career. These are Manvir Singh (2), Ishan Pandita (2), Liston Colaco (2), Rahim Ali (2), Aniket Jadhav and Devendra Murgaonkar. The remaining are mostly defenders who have converted set-piece opportunities (like Ashutosh Mehta against Jamshedpur FC) or wingers who have managed to get themselves on the score-sheet (like Lallianzuala Chhangte or Halicharan Narzary). The rest are midfielders like Rowllin Borges and Anirudh Thapa who have a knack of making late runs into the opposition penalty box for which they have been rewarded.

Furthermore, SC East Bengal and Odisha FC are two sides that are yet to have an Indian goalscorer this season, which should tell you everything about the lack of striking options that many domestic clubs are faced with. Although Liston, Rahim and Manvir have been earmarked for bigger and better things, that day is still quite far away when ISL sides will line up with one of them as their primary goalscorer instead of using them as supporting strikers behind more experienced foreign names. Till then, Chhetri is all we have.

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