While Indian fans look forward to seeing Chhetri succeed in his Portuguese adventure, a look at his performances on the domestic circuit might cause them a bit of worry...
The player has since then been showered with adulation, with several people who otherwise might not yet have known that Bhaichung Bhutia had retired from international football if it wasn’t for Bayern Munich giving him a deserved farewell game, reminiscing about the precocious talent of Sunil Chhetri.
While there is no doubt that Chhetri has over the past few years been the most prolific striker in national colours for India, and might technically be the best Indian striker, his form at the club level leaves a lot to be desired.
Infact except for one season with JCT, which catapulted him into his present position of a national star, his goal tally has failed to enter double digits in any league campaign.
He has also failed to win the national league, even though he has donned colours of the most successful clubs in Indian history like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Dempo amongst others, and while the Goan club did win the league in 2009-10, the player spent most of his time away on national duty, and then with Sporting Kansas City.
Chhetri Has Largely Failed To Justiify His Status As India's Best Striker In Domestic Games...
Having started off professionally with Mohun Bagan, the then precociously talented teenager did not find playing time easy to come by, and in a three year stint, managed to score just eight goals, with the Mariners failing to even finish in the top half of the table in each of those three years.
The story continued in his first season with JCT, managing just two goals in the entire campaign. It was in his second year with the now defunct club that the striker experienced what one may call a watershed moment in his career, as 12 goals in the 2006-07 campaign saw him grab the limelight and inevitable comparisons with another famous former JCT striker Bhaichung Bhutia followed. He then polished off individual awards like the league’s best player and best forward, before winning the AIFF’s Player of the Year award in 2007.
This though, turned out to be as good as it got for the former Mariners striker, as with agents promising him lucrative deals on foreign shores possibly turning his head, he failed to come anywhere close to repeating the form of 2006-07 in subsequent years, and often fans blamed him of not showing enough hunger while wearing club colours.
A third and final season with JCT yielded seven goals, and it was after this campaign that he had his first dalliance with a Portuguese club, with Estoril Praia, a second division club reportedly interested in him.
However he went on to sign for East Bengal, but in his single season there failed to guide them towards any silverware before being released by the, while his stay at Dempo too was similarly lacking in stability, as he always seemed to be eyeing a move abroad, instead of focusing on the job at hand.
A short stint at United SC followed after India’s Asian Cup exit in 2011, and he had a decent outing for them scoring seven goals in the second half of the season.
Excellent For The National Team But A Resounding Flop For The Mariners...
Eventually Mohun Bagan re-signed Chhetri for last season, paying a huge annual salary, hoping that he would form a devastating pairing with Odafa Okolie.
That though failed to happen, as although Odafa Okolie weighed in with goals for the Mariners, his Indian strike partner was either missing from action, out injured while on national duty, or looking completely uninterested and unfit, as he came away with a measly tally of 5 goals in the I-League.
His form left many a Mohun Bagan fans disillusioned with his commitment to the cause of the club which gave him his big shot in professional football, and often led to the supporters berating him for his lack of effort, with the Mariners faithful even engaging in a war of words with the player after a particularly unsatisfactory showing in a game in Pune.
Infact soon afterwards he disappeared for a football show on television in Dubai, without even allegedly informing his club officials, let alone taking their permission, for the visit, though he claimed otherwise.
His trips abroad, though widely covered, have also largely been unsuccessful. Trials at Coventry City and Glasgow Rangers led to nothing while a short stint in Major League Soccer with Sporting Kansas City also proved to be a failure, as forget playing a game, the player did not even make the bench for an MLS game, as he was not included in the roster.
The forward did 'sign' a contract with Queen’s Park Rangers, who were then in the Championship division in England, but the move failed to materialize due to issues with the work permit, as according to Football Players' Association of India (FPAI) website. The question which springs to mind is: Were the concerned authorities in QPR daft or naive not to know the rules before 'agreeing' a deal with an Indian in the first place? You've got your answer by now.
While there is a lot of speculation about whether his deal with the Portuguese giants is a commercial gimmick or not, one thing is a certainty, that it was definitely not his club form, which has been very poor, that lured Sporting CP into signing him.