Does the name Sunil Chhetri ring any bells with Perth Glory fans?
It was in 2011 that the then director of football Dave Mitchell flew to Qatar to watch the Asian Cup, and assess the Indian striker’s performance against Australia. He had a very quiet game. At that time the then 26-year-old had signed for Major League Soccer side Kansas City Wizards in the USA and had yet to start a game. Coach Ian Ferguson was alerted as to the player’s availability and was interested in possibly bringing him to Perth Glory. As the first Indian player to play in the A-League the marketing potential was huge.
When word leaked that Perth Glory was looking at Chhetri, and following his performance against Australia, many in the media scoffed at the club even considering such a player.
Chhetri now plays for Bengaluru FC in India, and is their captain. He has led the club to a piece of history, by becoming the first Indian club to make the AFC Cup Final. After a 1-1 draw at home in the first leg, the Indian side traveled last week to Malaysia to take on one of that nation’s top sides Johor Darul Ta’zim. Chhetri led from the front scoring two goals. One a header when he out jumped the six foot two Marcos Antonio at a corner. The now 32 year old is all of 5ft five! He is being hailed a true leader and hero.
Not surprisingly in India this success is being linked directly to the introduction of the Indian Super League three seasons ago. Just like the Hockey India League has helped Indian hockey climb from 12th in the World rankings to a high of 6th, so too has having top professionals come and play alongside local talent helped their football.
Can Bengaluru go all the way and lift the AFC Cup in the final against Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya? Can Chhetri lead from the front again? Maybe after all Perth Glory were right to have looked at Chhetri, although we will never know how he would have fared in the A-League. He may not have ended up at Perth Glory, but it is good to see him receiving some personal glory.