Feature

Sunil Chhetri: The Indian goal machine in the ISL

With 39 goals in five editions, the poster boy of Indian football is the top goal-scoring Indian in the Indian Super League.

By Naveen Peter ·

Sunil Chhetri has been the pivot on which Indian football has made most of its moves in recent years.

Sunil Chhetri has set numerous records over the last two decades. It includes being the most capped Indian international (115) and the highest Indian international goal scorer — his tally of 72 is only second to Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sunil Chhetri’s brilliant run at the international level has reflected in the way he’s performed in Indian domestic football.

While the early years saw Chhetri set the I-League on fire and become the highest Indian goal scorer in the league in 2017, he hasn’t lost any intensity since moving to the Indian Super League (ISL) from 2015.

Sunil Chhetri is ISL’s top Indian goal scorer. Photo: AIFF

Having turned out for Mumbai City FC in 2015 and 2016, and Bengaluru FC every year thereon, the Indian striker has not only scored goals aplenty but has also single-handedly led his side to victories.

While Spain’s Ferran Corominas remains ISL’s top goal-scorer, Sunil Chettri has netted the most for an Indian, just nine behind the Spaniard ahead of ISL 2020-21.

Here’s a look at some of Sunil Chhetri’s highlights in the ISL.

Sunil Chhetri’s first ISL goal

The Indian talisman missed the inaugural ISL after his I-League team Bengaluru FC refused to release Chhetri mid-way through the season. A year later, however, a dedicated window for the competition ensured every player got an opportunity to compete in the ISL.

The 2015 players auction saw Mumbai City FC spend Rs 1.2 crore to get Sunil Chhetri on board. Chhetri missed the opening matches due to international commitments but hit the ground running once he turned up for Mumbai.

Up against Delhi Dynamos in their fourth game of the season, Sunil Chhetri combined well with Haitian Sony Norde to score two goals and hand Mumbai their first win.

The opening goal saw Chhetri drop deep to win the ball and set himself on a run through the middle before finding Norde on the far side. Though the former Mohun Bagan star cut in and lined himself up for a shot, the attempt was thwarted by the Delhi defence.  

However, as a result, the ball fell invitingly for an onrushing Sunil Chhetri who made no mistake in finding the bottom corner with his first time shot.

The second goal also saw the two Mumbai forwards combine well as Norde drew the defence on to himself before squaring off for Sunil Chhetri to tap it into an open goal.

In the 11 games that Chhetri played that year, he scored seven goals, nearly 45 per cent of the team’s total goals in the campaign.

Sunil Chhetri’s best tally in an ISL match

While there have been many moments for Sunil Chhetri in the past five ISL seasons, his two hat-tricks in the league stand out.

The first one came in his debut ISL season. Playing for Mumbai City FC in ISL 2015, the Indian striker scored twice against NorthEast United FC from the penalty spot and added another one from close range.

It was the first-ever hat-trick in the ISL by an Indian football player as Mumbai registered a commanding 5-1 win.

His second hat-trick came in the semi-final of the 2017-18 season when Sunil Chhetri rose to the occasion and punished FC Pune City to take his team, Bengaluru FC, into the final in their debut ISL season.

The striker kicked-started the rout by nodding in an Udanta Singh cross in the 13th minute before scoring from the spot just before the half-time.

Though Pune pulled one back to liven up the contest, the Bengaluru FC captain put the match beyond their reach with a quality finish in the dying moments to take his team to the final.

A performer against Pune, NorthEast

Having produced his best performances against the now-defunct FC Pune City and NorthEast United FC, it’s no surprise that the two teams have been Sunil Chhetri’s favourite opponents.

In the seven matches that the Chhetri played against FC Pune City, he netted six goals with 15 shots on target. Of the six, three of his goals came from free-kicks while one from the penalty spot.

Sunil Chhetri was a constant threat against FC Pune City, often trying to influence the game with his quality.

The story was no different against NorthEast United. With six goals against the Highlanders in his 10 games so far, Sunil Chhetri has enjoyed success against a team known for its defending prowess.

Chennaiyin FC is next on Sunil Chhetri’s list, having scored five goals in nine matches against the two-time ISL champions.

Sunil Chhetri’s best ISL season

Though the captain of the Indian football team has competed in five editions of the Indian Super League, it was the 2017-18 season that saw the best of him.

Turning up for Bengaluru FC in their debut season, Sunil Chhetri took it upon himself to ensure that the team from the garden city enjoyed a fine run. The team topped the league table and went on to make it to the final.

Bengaluru FC netted 40 goals in their 21 matches with Venezuelan Miku accounting for 15 goals. Sunil Chhetri, meanwhile, scored 14 goals and managed two assists. Both players were in contention for the ISL Golden Boot award during the season.

But what stood out about the Bengaluru FC captain was his eagerness to play his team-mates into the game by managing a total of 15 key passes (goal-scoring opportunities) and his hunger to score which reflected in the 46 shots on target he took.