On target

Sunil Chhetri (jersey No. 11) is in great form for Bengaluru FC.-K. MURALI KUMAR Sunil Chhetri (jersey No. 11) is in great form for Bengaluru FC.

By winning the AIFF award for the third time Sunil Chhetri matched I. M. Vijayan’s feat. The 2011 Arjuna awardee is indeed lapping up all the accolades and also doing what he does best — scoring goals. By Avinash Nair.

Sunil Chhetri, the current poster boy of Indian football, has captured the imagination of the fans probably as much as Baichung Bhutia did in the mid-1990s, if not more. More so, for the simple reason that there are far more followers of the game today than there were maybe a decade or two ago.

“It feels nice to be recognised especially by all the I-League club coaches,” said Chhetri, after being named the AIFF Player of the Year 2013. This is for the third time that Chhetri has won the award. “It’s always nice to win such awards. Winning it for the first time is a great feeling, but then being able to win it for the third time and maintain the same passion and consistency means a lot more to me.

“My decision to pick this game, which I am so passionate about, and being able to raise my game over the years vindicates my decision,” said the 29-year-old India football captain, who has been in great form, scoring nine goals from 15 matches for Bengaluru FC in the current edition of the I-league. Bengaluru FC is currently on top of the 13-team league.

“I have never chased personal honours and awards but if it comes along, justifying my continued good work for my club and country, there is no greater satisfaction. I am indeed thankful to my clubs — right from the first one to the present club that I am doing duty for,” he said.

The country’s highest goal-scorer in the international circuit, Chhetri acknowledges the contributions of his team-mates and one-time senior Bhaichung Bhutia. “It’s not about the numbers. Emerging as the country’s top scorer in international football with 43 goals is a good feeling, but the more gratifying thought is the impact of the goals, winning games for India,” he said. “Bhaichung bhai has been my mentor and guiding force all these years and he rightfully set the target which I just overtook.”

About his team-mates Chhetri said: “All these honours and even for that matter all the international goals would not have been possible without the support and encouragement from my teammates. I should also mention my family because without their motivation and help in my childhood I would not have come this far in the game.

Sunil Chhetri has high regards for Bhaichung Bhutia.-PTI

“In fact, I scored my 43rd goal with my mother watching from the stands at Siliguri. It was one of the most pleasing moments of my career.”

There have been comments from various quarters about his inability to get goals for his club teams. But Chhetri rubbished it all. “For Churchill Brothers last season, and for Bengaluru FC this season (his nine goals thus far puts him ahead of all others) and before with Mohun Bagan, Prayag United and even Dempo and East Bengal, I have scored at a good average. So, it’s only a matter of how one looks at my contributions."

Talking about the year 2013, Sunil Chhetri admitted it was special. “Winning the I-league title with Churchill Brothers at the end of the last season was indeed a great moment. And then the move to Bengaluru FC, a professionally well-managed club side with a bunch of very talented players, has motivated me to perform at a higher notch.”

By winning the AIFF award for the third time Chhetri matched I. M. Vijayan’s feat. The 2011 Arjuna awardee is indeed lapping up all the accolades and also doing what he does best — scoring goals.