Chhetri becoming finer with age

Instead of giving up bits and pieces of his game to Father Time, Bengaluru FC and Indian captain Sunil Chhetri has only gotten fitter, faster and more effective with age.

Sunil Chhetri fired a brilliant hat-trick against FC Pune City on Sunday to lead Bengaluru FC into the Indian Super League final.   -  AFP Photo

At the start of every Indian football season in recent years, one question always comes up - “Has Sunil Chhetri lost some his mojo? Has he lost a step or two?”. Once the action begins, the answer - a resounding ‘no’ - becomes all too apparent. Instead of giving up bits and pieces of his game to Father Time, Chhetri has gotten fitter, faster and more effective.

At 33, Chhetri has no threat to his position as the India's best footballer. After a spectacular hat-trick on Sunday, which carried Bengaluru FC (BFC) past a tough FC Pune City into the Indian Super League final, the debate around his legacy raged on. “Sunil is the best player in Indian football history,” FC Pune City coach Ranko Popovic stated. It is a big claim, but not one without merit.

READ: Chhetri's hat-trick seals final spot for Bengaluru

The BFC skipper is India’s all-time highest goal-scorer in international fixtures. He is also the all-time highest goal-scorer in the domestic league among Indians (going past Baichung Bhutia’s record of 89 goals).

And the goals just keep coming. In the ongoing ISL season, Chhetri sits fifth on the league’s charts with 13 goals. The tally is all the more impressive when you consider that Chhetri does his fair share of marking and defensive work. This demanding role change – from his days as an all-out forward – was introduced by Ashley Westwood, who was BFC's Head Coach when Chhetri joined the club’s inaugural 2013-14 season.

Chhetri often talks about his love for BFC and the club’s fans, describing it as a match made in heaven. “Everything about this club is special. Johnno (John Johnson) and I have been here from when the first brick was laid. It gives us immense pride to see where the club is going. We feel for BFC. Other teams may not like it if I say this, but there are players elsewhere too who still feel for BFC. Rino (Anto) was there with us from day one. He had a brilliant four seasons with us. The same goes for guys like like Eugeneson and Udanta Singh - they all feel for the club,” said Chhetri, in a chat with Sportstar earlier this year.
 
“I remember we lost to East Bengal during our time in the I-League, and Udanta was crying like a baby. It just shows you how much he feels for the club. It's nice to be part of a club where the club feels the same about us. It feels like a family,” he added.

"We are treated very well here. We feel at home, we feel attached and loved. The owners, the fans, the ballboys - people are very affectionate here. I just hope I can play for 10 more years here, until I retire.”

ALSO READ: Chhetri breaks ISL goalscoring record for Indian player

Chhetri has come a long way since his days as a teenager with City FC, an amateur club in New Delhi. “I'm totally blessed. I would say I'm living a dream, but this is beyond any dream. At 17, when I was playing for City FC, if God gave me a pen and a piece of paper, and asked me to write what I wanted for my future...I wouldn't have been able to come up with this. The love I have received from people, the goals I've got, the fact that I play for my country and captain it. No way.

The only thing I tell myself is, 'Do not take it for granted.' This is not something everyone gets. So I keep it close to me and work very hard,” said the Indian captain.

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