Sunil Chhetri has come a long way from being a middle-class kid to becoming an Indian football great.
And on Tuesday, August 3, 2021, India's one of the most loved sportsmen has turned 37-year-old and keeps aging like a fine wine.
The Indian football captain is the highest goalscorer from the country (74 goals in 118 games) -- and fourth-highest in international football among current footballers. He remains only behind Portugal's star forward Cristiano Ronaldo (109 goals), Ali Makbout of UAE (76), Lionel Messi of Argentina (76).
Overall, Chhetri is joint-12th highest goalscorer in the history of international football.
Widely regarded as the most prolific goalscorer in Indian football history, Chhetri has been Indian football's infallible warrior for long.
However, as a child, Chettri who comes from a humble background was deprived of certain luxuries in life. He also chose football over cricket only because it was a more affordable sport.
Chhetri aspired to become the next Sachin Tendulkar but lack of funds to buy a kit broke his dream. “I used to steal money from my mom out of desperation,” he said in an interview to his club after becoming the country's highest-paid footballer by signing a Rs 1.50 crore contract with Bengaluru FC.
“My father used to cycle till the bus stop and he used to give me the exact change. And I was a cheat, I sometimes used to keep the money in my pocket and not buy tickets. I used to steal money. I asked my mum, ‘I want 50 bucks’. She said, ‘no chance’. I was so desperate that I stole the 50 bucks. She came to know, of course. She tied me to a chair and gave me the beating of my life for 2 hours," said Chhetri adding that the incident completely changed his life.
After beating him for stealing the money, his mother said something which changed Chettri's perspective of life.
“After 2 hours, she went to her room and she started crying. Then I got really scared. She held me and she said, ‘I’m so sorry that we can’t fulfil your needs that we’re making a thief out of our son." And that’s something that sent chills through the spine of the Indian skipper. “It really shook me. That’s something that really changed things for me. Then I realised that I cannot act like a mischievous, stupid kid," explained the Indian skipper.
Chhetri then left cricket behind and decided to make a living out of football. There was no stopping the Blue Tiger thereon.
He soon caught the eye of Mohun Bagan scouts in 2002. And then of the national selectors. “I never thought I would make a living out of football,” he said.
Chhetri now earns a whopping Rs 8 lakh (approx.) per match.
The Indian captain has played key roles in a number of triumphs for the country, including the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, 2011 SAFF Championships, and 2012 Nehru Cup. In the qualifying campaign for the 2019 Asia Cup, Chhetri scored 8 goals, ensuring India's qualification in Asia's premier football tournament for the only third time in history.
Have you in your life experienced such a turn of events? Share it with us in the comments section below.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)