Indian Super League’s top flight club Bengaluru FC have completed their negotiation to retain India’s leading football icon and national team captain Sunil Chhetri. The renewed contract will ensure Chhetri’s stay at the JSW Group-owned football club till 2021.
When it comes to celebrities, let alone the term ‘brand icons’, in Indian football, the masses can only recall a few players. Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri is the most prominent name among them with a few others like goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Kerala Blasters star Sandesh Jhingan and Chennaiyin FC forward Jeje Lalpekhlua in a not-so-long list of popular Indian football stars.
Sunil Chhetri aka Captain Fantastic, the torchbearer of Indian football is slowly rising among the ranks to be reckoned among the legendary footballers after glorious Indian era sketched by Bhaichung Bhutia. The heroics and charisma of the goal-hungry and disciplined Chhetri have led him to honour of becoming the highest earning Indian footballer.
For the 33-year old talismanic striker, age is just a number. Chhetri has defied all the odds in his epochal journey in which he scored 65 international goals in 102 appearances and 138 goals in his club career that saw him playing for eleven clubs across the globe including Mohun Bagan, East Bengal Club, MLS club Kansas City Wizards, Sporting Clube de Portugal B and ISL clubs Bengaluru FC and Mumbai City FC.
The 2017-18 was the best season ever for Chhetri during which he scored 20 goals for his current home Bengaluru FC, helping it clinch the Super Cup and reach Indian Super League (ISL) final. In his last 10 international games for India, he found the back of the net an astonishing 13 times, a spree which first guided India to 2019 Asian Cup qualification and then secured the inaugural Intercontinental Cup title that saw him scoring eight goals in four matches.
The 2017 AIFF Player of the year, Chhetri, is yet again set to put his best foot forward this season after he extended his contract with Bengaluru FC. The new agreement will keep him with the Indian football giants until 2021. The deal originally signed until 2020 has been pushed forth by one more year under the new terms of the agreement. He now becomes the longest serving player of the club after being first signed in 2013.
The deal, according to the previous terms, signed in 2016-17 with the JSW Group-owned club gets him an annual salary of over ₹1.5 crores which is 9% of the total salary purse of the club based in Bengaluru, Karnataka. The salary makes Chhetri the highest earning Indian footballer in the ISL and 14th overall behind the foreign players sitting in the top 13 spots. Venezuelan Miku is the highest earning footballer in ISL.
Chhetri was picked up by Mumbai City during the ISL 2015 season for ₹1.2 crores, making him the most expensive Indian player at the auctions that time and was later loaned out to Bengaluru FC for the 2015–16 I-League season. On 9 June 2016, Bengaluru FC announced that Chhetri had signed a 1-year contract at the club, thus reverting his ownership rights to the club from Mumbai City. He went on to score 14 goals for the club in the 4th season of ISL (2017-18), marking the club’s inaugural outing and was the Indian top scorer of the league and third highest overall. He also became the second top scorer for Bengaluru FC on the league.
Chhetri played his 100th match on June 4, 2018, in the inaugural edition of the Hero Intercontinental Cup winning 3-0 against Kenya. The Indian team swept away the title defeating the same team in the finals. Chhetri that time grabbed the national headlines for his emotional plea requesting the country to attend the matches after he saw lukewarm response in the first tie against Chinese Tapei which the Indian team won by a staggering 5-0.
His appeal got a huge response from fans, celebrities alike and saw houseful stands and unprecedented TV viewership ratings in his 100thinternational game. He became the only Indian after the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia to cross the 100 mark.
Sunil Chhetri is also the fourth-highest international goal scorer among active players. The 33-year-old achieved the feat with his match-winning strike, his 53rd, against Myanmar in the third round of 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in March last year. He then equalled England’s Wayne Rooney record and subsequently added more goals to his tally to surpass him and now trails only Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and USA’s Clint Dempsey.
With his glittering performance and prolific goal spree in the qualifiers, Chhetri has also led India to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, the first time since 2011.
Chhetri also figures in the Forbes Top 100 Indian Celebrities in 2017 as the only footballer in the roster. He also has signed a lucrative deal with Nike as his official outfit partner. He was named the brand ambassador of online fantasy sports platform StarPick and New Delhi-based Eric Benny Sports Management in June this year.