By Kaustav Bera
After an one year stint with MLS club, Kansas City Wizards Sunil Chhetri makes another foray to club football outside India, as he will turn out to play for the 'B' Side of Portuguese giants, Sporting Clube de Portugal.
Just in November, 2011 Sunil Chhetri and his compatriot Jeje Lalpekhlua had gone for a trial to famous (and currently bankrupt) Scottish club, Rangers. Unfortunately they failed to make the cut. That was however a blessing in disguise as the club from Glasgow went into administration.
Before joining Sporting, Chhetri had run out his one year contract with Mohun Bagan Athletic Club and was a free agent.
Goal.com profiles the Indian skipper and AIFF Player of the Year 2011, Sunil Chhetri...
City FC, Delhi 2001-02.
Mohun Bagan 2002-05.
East Bengal 2008-09.
Kansas City Wizards 2010-11.
Prayag United 2011.
Mohun Bagan 2011-12.
Sporting CP 'B' 2012-13.
National Appearances : 58 (Senior Team)
Goals Scored : 33 (Senior Goals)
Club Appearances : 117
Goals Scored : 53
As an youngster, Sunil had to frequently change his school given that his parents were always on the move. He shifted from Gangtok to Darjeeling to Kolkata and thereafter to New Delhi. Later he joined the Ashutosh College in Kolkata but had to give up schooling in Class XII as he went on to represent India in the Asian School Championship in 2001.
Highlights of his career
After plying his trade with New Delhi based club City FC, Sunil's journey in the big league started with Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan. He didn’t get to play regularly at the Kolkata club but did catch the eye of many with some of his performances and thus was called up to the India squad for the 2004 SAFF Games. During his three year stint with the Mariners he scored a mere 8 goals and the club managed to finish in the bottom half of the then National Football League (NFL) each time in the three seasons.
Thereafter he moved to JCT in 2005, but his first season with the Phagwara based club wasn't too fruitful as he just scored a measly 2 goals. However he exploded into the limelight the next season, as he was the top Indian goalscorer in the league with 12 goals. The league season ended with Chhetri being named the League Player of the Year, as well as the Best Forward, as JCT finished second. Then, as the icing on the cake, he was named AIFF's Player of the Year for 2007, a big achievement at just 22 years of age.
After scoring 7 goals in the next season with JCT, Chhetri was on the radar of a couple of Portuguese second division clubs when he traveled to Portugal with Team India for their annual summer camp. However Chhetri signed up with East Bengal for the 2008-09 season. Amidst his stint with them, he went for a trial with English club, Coventry City but failed to make an impression. His season ended with 7 goals for East Bengal but the club managed no silverware that season.
He was released by the Red and Gold brigade for next season and thereafter he signed a two year contract with Dempo SC of Goa. It was during the Nehru Cup that the Football Players Association of India (FPAI) announced on its website that Chhetri had secured a deal with Queens Park Rangers (QPR) of England but things never progressed from thereon as he couldn't manage an European work permit as India were ranked below 70 in the Fifa world rankings.
Finally he did manage to strike a deal with Kansas City Wizards who play in the Major League Soccer (MLS) in USA in the 2010-11 season. He still managed to score 8 goals for Dempo that season. Chhetri failed to make the cut at his new club and wasn't even a bench warmer given that he wasn't even on their MLS roster.
With India preparing for the Asian Cup, the AIFF bailed out Chhetri by offering to take care of his wages while he stays with the national team, a deal to which the MLS club were fine with. Following the Asian Cup, he found it difficult to find a decent club willing to make him an offer from India.
United Sports Club were the only club who were keen on his services and he repaid their faith in him by scoring 7 goals in as many appearances, which was his best display for an I-League club after his second season with JCT.
In the 2011-12 season, he returned to Mohun Bagan AC and although plagued by injuries, he only managed to scored 5 times for them in I-League season 2011-12 in 15 appearances.
Only on an one year contract Chhetri was a free agent after the just ended Indian football season. On 4th July, 2012 he had signed for the Portuguese second division ( Liga de Honra ) side Sporting Clube de Portugal "B" team.
Sunil Chhetri made his India debut in the 2004 Asian Games in Pakistan. His first goal however had to wait another year and was against Pakistan. He rose to prominence, representing India at the 2007 Nehru Cup where he starred in India winning the trophy for the first time since 1997, scoring 4 goals in the competition.
However his moment of glory came in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup where he also scored 4 goals, but more importantly masterminded India's victory which was a major one, as this meant India qualified for the prestigious Asian Cup in 2011. Meanwhile he partnered Bhaichung Bhutia also in the 2009 Nehru Cup which India retained after beating Lebanon. Although India failed to impress in the 2011 Asian Cup as they were winless and crashed out, Chhetri did manage to score 2 goals, one from the spot, for the Blue Tigers.
In the SAFF Championship which was held in India in December 2011, India were dominant winners with Sunil Chhetri being the top scorer with a massive 7 goals in the competition, including braces against Bhutan and Maldives. However the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup was a major letdown as they bowed out of the tournament in Nepal without a goal and without a point.
India national team
Nehru Cup 2007,2009.
AFC Challenge Cup 2008.
SAFF Championship 2011.
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