• Friday, June 21, 2024

FOOTBALL

India’s football legend Sunil Chhetri announces retirement

Chhetri has scored 94 goals in 150 appearances for India, ranking behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi among active international goal-scorers.

Chhetri’s goal tally across club and country stands at 252 from 515 appearances, averaging nearly a goal every two games. (Photo: Getty Images)

By: Vivek Mishra

India captain Sunil Chhetri announced on Thursday that he will retire from international football at age 39, concluding a career that has spanned two decades.

Chhetri has scored 94 goals in 150 appearances for India, ranking behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi among active international goal-scorers. He is also India’s most-capped player.

In a video message on social media platform X, Chhetri stated that the 2026 World Cup qualifier against Kuwait in Kolkata on June 6 will be his final international match.

“It’s not that I was feeling tired, not that I was feeling this or that,” he said. “When the instinct came that this should be my last game, I thought about it a lot and eventually I came to this decision.”

India is currently second in qualifying Group A with four points, behind Qatar.

“The game against Kuwait demands pressure, we need the three points to qualify for the next round. It’s hugely important for us,” Chhetri said. “But in a strange way, I don’t feel the pressure because these 15-20 days with the national team and the match against Kuwait is the last.”

Chhetri’s goal tally across club and country stands at 252 from 515 appearances, averaging nearly a goal every two games. He scored a penalty in India’s most recent match, a 2-1 World Cup qualifying defeat to Afghanistan in March.

“The phases, the faces, the eras and battles — he’s been the one constant through it all,” Chhetri’s Indian Super League club Bengaluru FC said on X after the announcement. “He’s going to do it one last time, and we can never be grateful enough for the giant that walked amongst men.”

Football has struggled to find its place among the 1.4 billion people of India, where cricket dominates the sports landscape. Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter once referred to India as a “sleeping giant” of football.

India is currently ranked 121, one spot below Lebanon, which has a population of 5.5 million.

Chhetri began his football career in 2002. In 2009, he was reported to have signed with English Championship side Queens Park Rangers but was unable to join due to a denied work permit. He joined Kansas City Wizards in the United States in 2010 and in 2012 signed with Portugal’s Sporting CP, where he played for the reserves.

In 2022, FIFA honoured Chhetri with a documentary titled “Captain Fantastic.”

India coach Igor Stimac told AFP in January that Chhetri could continue his career as long as he wished. “We are not putting any pressure on him whatsoever,” the Croatian said. “He is a proper role model for many Indian kids dreaming about becoming football players.”

(AFP)

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