India football legend Sunil Chhetri announces international retirement

Legendary Indian footballer Sunil Chhetri has announced that he will hang up his boots after one last match in June.

In a video posted on X on Wednesday, he said India’s World Cup qualification match against Kuwait on 6 June would be his last international game.

Chhetri, 39, who plays as a forward, has been India’s football team captain for over a decade. He is often regarded as India’s greatest footballer of all time.

In an almost 10-minute-long video on X, the Indian football icon said his decision wasn’t easy.

“The kid inside will probably keep fighting to play football, but the sensible, mature player and person knows that this is it,” he said.

Chhetri also reflected on his two-decade-long career and what kept him going, and eventually how he decided “this is it”.

“There is one day that I never forget and remember it quite often is the first time I played for my country. Man, it was unbelievable,” he said.

“And the moment I told myself first, that yes, this is the game that is going to be my last, is when I started recollecting everything.... Everything came, all the flashes came. So I decided that this is it.”

In a cricket-crazy country like India, football and other sports often get sidelined and athletes suffer from lack of funding and attention to the sport.

But Chhetri’s performance over the last two decades has managed to shine a spotlight on Indian football.

He has led the national team to several crucial victories, including the Nehru Cup in 2007, 2009, 2012, and the SAFF Championship in 2011, 2015, and 2021. Most significantly, his contribution to India’s 2008 AFC Challenge Cup win secured their first AFC Asian Cup appearance in 27 years.

His talent soon took him to international fame with stints at the USA’s Kansas City Wizards and Portugal’s Sporting CP reserves.

In India, he has donned the jerseys of prestigious clubs such as East Bengal, Dempo, Mumbai City FC, and currently, Bengaluru FC.

Chhetri has scored 94 goals for the country, becoming India’s all-time top scorer and most-capped player.

He is only behind Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the list of the highest scorers of international goals among active footballers.

Chhetri’s retirement announcement has sparked a discussion over who will lead the team after him, a question that has been plaguing Indian football fans for a long-time.