Sunil Chhetri has been India's foremost striker for a few years now and his move to Europe has sparked an understandable spell of excitement among football fans in India.Sunil Chhetri is India's premier striker and his international record of 33 goals from 58 appearances speaks for itself. For any football-loving Indian, the announcement that he will be joining Sporting CP's 'B' side in Portugal is exciting news and could prove to be an important milestone in Indian football.
The striker has attempted to break into Europe before with Coventry City a few years ago but was turned away after an unsuccessful trial and he suffered a similar experience with Glasgow Rangers recently. He was on MLS side, Sporting Kansas City's payroll during the 2010-11 season but failed to register a single competitive appearance for the club.
However, Sporting CP have taken him aboard and Sunil will feature for the B team in the coming season. This is a step forward for Indian football simply because it needs more fans. It will make an impact on Indian football but just how much of an impact is mostly down to Mr. Chhetri.
The diminutive striker will have to train as hard as he ever has to impress the coaching staff in Portugal and perform when put to the test. He turns 28 next month so at his age its more about performance than development that the Portuguese will be interested in. Showing promise is all well and good but at 28, he needs to deliver.
In order to succeed, Chhetri must take the bull by the horns and break in to the first team squad. If he doesn't manage to make an impression, he risks being labelled as a prop in Sporting CP's ploy to attract fans and potential investors from India.
On a more optimistic note, an Indian playing in Europe attracts attention and if Chhetri manages to be even on the periphery of the first team squad, you can be sure that Sporting CP will have a good number of Indians rooting for them. Suddenly, Indians who aren't interested in following football would sit up and take notice and gradually the Indian national team would win over more fans if only for the presence of a European based player in their line up.
What this move essentially does is change the mindset of the general public. A career in football is often discarded as a pursuit that eventually leads to a dead end, but now India finally have a footballer enrolled with a major European club and it's that very fact that may just encourage others to reach for the stars.
But I am not nearly as naive to suggest that Chhetri's move is going to revolutionize Indian football overnight. Nevertheless, it allows him to rid himself of his annonymity as far as European clubs are concerned and also goes a long way to putting India on the map in the footballing sense.
It suggests that there is scope for Indian footballers to make it in Europe. If Sunil Chhetri can make it to the Portuguese league now, then there's nothing stopping at least a handful of budding Indian footballers from featuring in some of the best European leagues in ten year's time. Hopefully, children will then be able to sight being a professional footballer as an acceptable career path without any qualms.
Sunil Chhetri's venture into Europe may be a small step for Indian football at the moment but it's a step in the right direction. How many Indians enrolled their daughters for tennis lessons after watching Sania Mirza compete on television? Watching Sunil Chhetri turn out for Sporting CP's first team, and not the 'B' side, could have a similar impact. The move is certain to boost football's popularity in a cricket monopolized country.
Do you think Sunil Chhetri's move to Sporting CP is a good sign for Indian football? How much of an impact do you think it will make? Send in YOUR opinions in the comments section below...