Over the past decade or so, Sunil Chhetri has stamped his name on quite a few Indian football records. He currently sits on top of India’s all-time goal-scorers list. On Wednesday, he scored a hat-trick in Mumbai City FC’s 5-1 win over NorthEast United to become the first Indian to leave an indelible mark on the Indian Super League (ISL).
The effort also helped Chhetri take his tally of goals to six, to take him level with Chennaiyin FC’s Stiven Mendoza on top of the league’s goal-scorers’ list this season. The win was Mumbai City FC’s third win in a row, taking them to 10 points and into second place on the standings.
Chhetri had missed the first two games for Mumbai, while away on national duty. Since his return, the striker has been the catalyst behind Mumbai’s turnaround. In their three wins so far, the 31-year-old has now scored in all three.
He opened the scoring through a penalty in the 25th minute. NorthEast, though, put the game back on level terms immediately after Boithang Haokip converted a free-kick four minutes later.
Since ISL’s inception, Mumbai City had not lost after scoring first. Chhetri, it appeared, had no intention of letting that change as he volleyed in minutes before the break to restore the lead. Minutes into the second half he completed his hat-trick by scoring through another penalty. Later, Sony Norde and Frantz Bertin, completed the rout with one goal apiece.
However, if Chhetri had had his way, he could have scored two more, after one of his chances hit the cross-bar while another was saved by the goal-keeper.
Since being picked for Mohun Bagan as a teenager, Chhetri has been touted to be the one Indian player to give international players in terms of quality. His repeated attempts to play in foreign leagues, such as Major League Soccer in the US and the national league in Portugal saw him find little success.
Despite those failures, Chhetri now enjoys prominence while rubbing shoulders with players who have played in top leagues.
According to Mumbai City FC assistant coach Oscar Bruzon, Chhetri, 31, has exceeded expectations of the team. “He has been one of our key players. He has exceeded our expectations. We wanted him originally to play on the left. However, his work-rate and ability to go front and back, made him more suitable for a central role, and he has really done well in that role,” Bruzon said after the match.
“He deserves all the credit for the work he has put in so far. All the players in this league have come here after playing in top leagues in Europe. He has managed to find his space among them and why not maybe he could still play in the top league one day,” he added.