Indian Football and Sunil Chhetri’s name goes hand-in-hand. The captain of the national team is the first player whose name comes to your mind when one talks about Indian football. The face of the sport in the country for the past decade, the ‘Captain. Leader. Legend’ as he’s lovingly called by his fans, continues to inspire one and all.
The veteran has represented India 112 times and has 76 international goals to his name. Remarkably, Sunil Chhetri is only second behind the great Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of goals scored at the international level amongst active players. Every football fan wishes to watch the Bengaluru FC skipper lead India’s attack forever, but the reality is that the Indian captain is turning 36 in August 2020.
He has carried the burden of the nation for 15 years but a legitimate question that arises now is who’ll follow in the footsteps of the great Sunil Chhetri? Here we take a look at some of the upcoming attacking options in the Indian circuit who can take up the mantle if they prove their worth in the recent future.
Manvir came through the ranks of Minerva Punjab FC and made his senior team international debut in 2017 against Mauritius. India’s head coach Igor Stimac rates Manvir quite highly and a lot of expectations rest on the shoulders of the Punjab-born striker.
A part of FC Goa, the Indian Super League 2019-20 league winners, in the domestic competition, his return of goals, however, doesn’t paint a rosy picture. He has managed to find the back of the net on just five occasions in two full seasons, though that can be majorly attributed to the fact that he has been introduced as a substitute in most occasions due to the lethal forward line FC Goa already have at their disposal. Maybe a different club and regular football would give him a much-needed boost in this sector.
He has a couple of goals to his name in International colours and with more matches under his belt, he can prove to be a good replacement for Sunil Chhetri as he possesses all the traits of a lethal striker. Currently, the only promising young striker coming through the ranks of Indian football, a lot of hopes are pinned on him to make it big and fill the massive shoes of the Indian captain.
Ashique hails from Kerala where the passion for football is second to none in India. He was a part of Pune’s academy which was later converted to the former Indian Super League team FC Pune City and Ashique went on to join them. In October 2016, it was announced that he’ll be joining the Spanish club Villareal on loan. After training for four months with the Yellow Submarines, Ashique, unfortunately, suffered a hamstring injury and had to return to India.
He made his Indian Super League debut in 2017 for FC Pune City and had two decent seasons with them. His big-money move came when he decided to join the then defending champions Bengaluru FC at the start of the 2019-20 season. He had a mixed first season with them and struggled to find his ideal role in the team. However, he went on to score an important goal in the first leg of semi-finals against eventual champions ATK FC, which marked his first goal for his new club.
Having made his senior team international debut back in 2018, he has gone on to achieve 16 caps and has a solitary goal against Sri Lanka to show for his attacking instinct. He has been deployed at various positions on the pitch – left wing-back, on either side of the wings and a striker, but his ideal position is yet to be determined. He has the pace and the potential to be a star in the making. It’ll be interesting to see how his future pans out under the guidance of Igor Stimac.
Despite him being only 23, Chhangte has loads of experience in Indian football already. He has 73 appearances in the Indian Super League and has played 11 times for the national team. He was scouted by DSK Shivajians’ Liverpool International Football Academy in 2014 which kick-started his youth career. In 2016, he went on to train at Liverpool’s Youth Academy at Kirby.
He made his Indian Super League debut in 2016 for NorthEast United FC. He was picked up by Delhi Dynamos FC in the 2017-18 season and registered 36 matches for them, scoring 8 goals. He moved to Chennaiyin FC for the 2019-20 season where we saw the best of Chhangte. In 21 matches he scored 7 times and helped his team reach the final of the Indian Super League.
He has netted twice for the national team and is recently coming of age on the back of a remarkable domestic season. He’s predominantly a winger and likes to dominate the opposition defenders with his seething pace and his dribbling skills. He can be the next goal-scoring machine for India if guided properly and has the work ethic to go with his passion.
As Sunil Chhetri approaches the epilogue of his illustrious career, one of these young forwards will have to step up to fill this massive void. However, we still hope Chhetri continues to play for India as long as he possibly can.
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