Chencho Gyeltshen likes to perform his Cristiano Ronaldo goal celebration every now and then. Last season, he unfurled it when he scored against Indian Arrows, dribbling down the left-wing, cutting inside on his right foot, and rifling an unstoppable shot into the far corner.
"Whenever I score a crucial goal or a fantastic goal," he admits with a sheepish grin, "I do a Ronaldo celebration. I am a big fan of his." Bengaluru FC's new Bhutanese recruit will be wearing number 27 this season but it will still not stop his supporters from calling him CG7.
Having scored seven goals and provided eight assists in a historic title-winning season for Minerva Punjab FC in the I-League, Gyeltshen has moved to the Indian Super League. When he does take the field, he will become the first footballer from his country to play in the league.
That is a matter of great pride for the 22-year-old, who is arguably the most popular athlete in the Himalayan kingdom. "I'm here not only for myself but also to represent Bhutan," he says. "It is a very small country; nobody recognizes Bhutan. But now fans of football know where Bhutan is."
A couple of years ago, when Gyeltshen was plying his trade in Bangladesh, an agent from Kolkata offered him to the city's big clubs but they did not even call him for a trial. "East Bengal and Mohun Bagan said they didn't want a Bhutanese player; they said we couldn't play here. That day I told myself: 'I will prove them wrong.' And I
Bhutan was once the worst international team in the world, languishing at the bottom of the FIFA rankings on 209. That changed with the country's World Cup qualifying debut in 2015, when it beat Sri Lanka 3-1 on aggregate in a Round 1 tie. Gyeltshen scored both goals -- including a 90th-minute winner -- as Bhutan won the second leg 2-1 in Thimpu. It was a stunning shock.
"Everything changed after that win," he says. "We got a foreign coach and new sponsors. We now have 10 artificial surfaces in the country. But football is still an amateur sport. Some national players are doing a day-time job; some are students. If we get more sponsors, we will improve further.”
Gyeltshen is a fast, talented forward who favours operating on the left. He will add much to Bengaluru FC but is under no illusions regarding the scale of the challenge he faces. “My first goal is to find a place in the starting XI because only five foreigners can play,” he says. If he can do that, the ISL will have a new wave of followers in Bhutan.
“Indian football is popular in my country,” smiles Gyeltshen. “Now they will watch it even more.”
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