The very thought of Nicolas Anelka, one of the most talented journeyman striker the world has seen, sizing you up and selling the dummy with a dip of the shoulder could well give a defender some food for thought. Add Sunil Chhetri to the mix and the headache could escalate into a splitting migraine. Such is the fate that awaits the opposition in the second edition of the Indian Super League as the duo are set to form the frontline for Mumbai City FC. One as the player-manager, who perhaps will take a slight back seat to let his younger and more hungrier partner to run the show.
For over a decade, Chhetri has been the poster boy for Indian football. The highest goal scorer for the country, a four-time AIFF player of the year, a multiple time I-League champion — the list of accolades for the baby faced star is big. And the latest among them is the tag of the highest paid Indian footballer at the ISL. Signed up during the auction for a whopping Rs 1.20 crore, Chhetri is looking forward to the new challenge in a different light. “You know, I have lived everywhere; I lived in Kolkata, Goa, Kansas, Lisbon, Bengaluru, but never stayed in Mumbai,” said the striker to Deccan Chronicle.
“I am very excited that I not only get to play with Anelka but also to work under him. There are so many things to learn from him,” the 30-year-old remarked.
But ahead of the auction, even the battle-hardened star had butterflies in his stomach. “I was anxious which place I was going to go and Mumbai City FC picked me and I will give my best for the team,” remarked Chhetri. But when asked about the last time he had such feelings, with matters out of his hands on the cusp of signing for London club Queens Park Rangers, the striker replied: “QPR deal was different. I was more nervous then. Here I was just looking where I would play. There the deal was done but there were other complications and didn’t have a happy ending but thankfully here it ended well,” said Chhetri, who added being a fan of the owner and Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor made the move all the more sweeter.
While success has come consistently for the former Mohun Bagan star since he laced up a pair of boots, he remains the same boy from an army background who took his first steps towards a fledgling career playing with his parents — both former players and the cornerstone of his life. “I used to play with my mom and dad in the army compound. My father used to cross, my mother used to be the goalkeeper and I used to head the balls in. I wasn’t someone who really had to work hard to play but yes to polish it I did a lot of hard work.” recalls the diminutive striker. “Even now when I go home and ask my mother to come out for a game of football, she’s ever-ready and my dad is the person I learnt the most from.”
There is a tremble in his voice when he speaks of his parents. “When I am at home I am not Chhetri. I am a son, a brother — just a normal lad. I was raised in a normal way and thank god I was because it has kept me grounded.” With the weight of the whole nation resting on his shoulders whenever he pulls on the blue jersey, the Secunderabad-born star has balanced the expectations with aplomb but then strangely there are superstitions that helps him! “Whenever I drop something by accident before a game, I know I will score,” the affable forward says with a laugh.
But keep aside all the accolades, it is the same love for the game which was inculcated in him as a kid that drives him. “I train hard to keep myself fit and I had a recent conversation with the Bengaluru FC fitness coach Malcom Purcahse and he said that I have the potential to play until 40. I am not satisfied yet. I am quite happy and till the time I am happy playing I will play,” the India No.11 signed off....