In India, the majority of people are cricket fans. Although we follow other sports like football, basketball, squash, etc, we support only those teams that are based in another country, the ones that play at an elite level. However, we forget that even teams from India can play like that only if there is proper media coverage, adequate sponsors, and also people to encourage the players to give their 100 percent on the pitch.
India in general is not bad at playing football considering the facilities that they get. But the real impediment in the growth of the sport in our nation is the lack of traction it receives. For this reason, 36-year-old Sunil Chhetri, captain of the Indian football team, decided to take things up on his own and show everyone what can be achieved if the right mindset is achieved by the mass.
Poor in pockets, not in dedication
Sunil grew up in a mediocre family and his father worked as an officer in the army. Family’s meagre income kept him away from any lavishness while growing up. In fact, he could not even afford new football shoes and had to stitch his torn shoe repeatedly in order to pursue his passion of becoming a footballer.
Fast forward to 2007, he became one of the rising stars of Indian football and managed to sign a deal with Nike that ensured he got his hands on any of the new shoes the company released. But for him, a new challenge awaited. He was frustrated with the lack of attention that the world’s most popular sport was receiving in India. What exasperated him even more was that though Indians followed English and Spanish football, they barely cared about their own national team.
Sunil always believed that only through his own efforts could he garner the attention of his countrymen towards the national team. He worked relentlessly, day and night, and won the Nehru Cup in 2007, 2009, and 2012.
He was also instrumental when India clinched the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008 that led to their qualification to the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in 27 years. Not only that, he also made a name for himself and got to play abroad with Kansas City in the United States in 2010 and with Sporting Clube de Portugal in 2012.
Winning hearts by pleading and performing
But alas! None of these achievements seemed enough for Indian Football Federation of the Indian football fans. So on June 2, 2018, he took to social media to plead to all Indians to come and watch them play for the nation in the Intercontinental Cup held at Mumbai. His humble and unostentatious request went viral immediately and the whole nation was moved by his unfaltering dedication and pride for his country at a time when footballers simply care about their paycheck.
And Sunil’s beseech didn’t go in vain. On June 4, unlike any of the previous matches, the stadium was fully booked with over 8,000 spectators. India won that match 3-0 against Kenya, thanks to Sunil’s brace who took to social media to thank everyone who heeded to his request. India eventually won the Intercontinental Cup on June 10, 2018 as they defeated Kenya again.
This time the scoreline read 2-0 and both the goals were scored by none other than Sunil. At the same time, he has tied with Lionel Messi as the joint second-highest active international goal scorer. Sunil, however, has played 22 less matches than Messi to score 64 goals.
It is very hard to change the mindset of more than one billion people that long gone are the days when India was only known for its cricket. But Sunil has sparked a hope in the minds of millions that there is hope for Indian football in the near future. He has single-handedly uplifted the status of Indian football and all of this was simply possible because he was able to challenge himself to the fullest and constantly evolve to be a better footballer each and every single day.
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