Sunil Chhetri is one of the most well-known faces in Indian football, if not in the Indian sports industry. We can go as far as to say the Telangana-born striker is the best home-grown talent that India can offer to the popular sport. As Chhetri prepares for his 20th season in professional football, he can look back with pride at his illustrious career that can evoke envy in any professional football player. As the Indian skipper celebrates his birthday today, find out five interesting facts about him.
1. Sporting runs in the family
Since Chhetri was born into a family of sportspersons, we can say that football definitely runs in the Chhetri blood. His mom Sushila Chhetri played for the Nepal national team and his dad K B Chhetri, who was in the Indian Army, was a member of the corps' football team. "My mum played for the Nepal national team. My father used to play for the battalion, electronics, and mechanical engineer corps. So, getting sports into my system was not difficult. It was natural," Chhetri said in an interview for the Indian Super League.
Chhetri went on to say how his mother helped him mould his skills in not just football, but other sports too. "Sports was in my system was as early as I can remember. I used to play a lot of different sports, now when I look back, I understand that it really helped with my hand-eye coordination. My biggest competitor was my mum. I used to try to beat her at Chinese checkers, chess, carrom, volleyball, badminton, football, wrestling," he said.
2. He had attracted quite a few eyes from abroad in his prime
Sunil Chhetri is the third player to travel from the Indian subcontinent to play football professionally. He is also the only Indian to play on three different continents - in Asia for several clubs, in Europe for Sporting Club de Portugal and in North America for Kansas City Wizards.
In 2009, Chhetri was signed onto the English club Queens Park Rangers' squad but it ended on a disappointing note for the Indian skipper as he was denied a work permit by the British government. Chhetri's response to the news reminded us why we love the Indian footballing legend: "But it's not the end of the world. I will still continue to work hard for my country and my club Dempo, who have been very supportive."
Chettri has also played for Cristiano Ronaldo's ex-club Sporting CP from 2012-2013, for whom he made 5 appearances.
3. Record-holding achievements
Chhetri was named All India Football Federation (AIFF) Player of the Year a record six times in 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018–19. He is also currently competing very tightly with football stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to be the highest international goalscorers among active players. He is currently the fourth-highest internationally active goalscorer with 74 goals, just two shy off Messi's international goal tally.
He is the most-capped player for the Indian national football team and also holds the record for the all-time top goalscorer for India.
Way past his prime, Chhetri still manages to impress on the field. After debuting for the Indian Super League in 2015, he went to become the league's all-time top Indian goalscorer and also holds the record for the most hattricks by an Indian.
4. Chhetri is one of the highest-paid footballers in India
In the ISL 2015-16 campaign, the Indian skipper was the most sought out Indian player. It resulted in Mumbai City FC bidding Rs. 1.2 crores for him, making him the most expensive Indian player at the auctions. He approximately gets around Rs 8.14 lakh per match.
According to ForbesIndia, Chhetri had an annual earning of Rs 6.1 crore in 2019, a cumulation of all money earned through games along with advertisements and sponsorships.