Football captain Sunil Chhetri as a new player of Portuguese football club Sporting Lisbon. HT/Sanjeev Verma
The details of Sunil Chhetri's deal with Sporting Lisbon may yet be sketchy but the possibility of training, perhaps even playing with professional European footballers seems enough to get the India captain excited.
Speaking at the media conference after the announcement here on Thursday, Chhetri, 27, said he is lucky to go from a country that is ranked 163rd in the world to one that's fifth. "I'm not demeaning my own country or its clubs. Just that we have no qualms about our stature in world football, and the fact that we have a lot to learn."
According to the club's website, Chhetri will join the Sporting Lisbon reserve team for now. This season the top Primeira Liga clubs such as Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and FC Porto will revive their reserve teams, which will play in the Liga de Honra or second division, having dissolved them in 2006. This means Chhetri, for the moment, could be some distance away from the apex tier of Portuguese football.
His salary too - yet undisclosed - would be significantly less than the six-digit weekly wages football's top names earn in Europe but having had a short, tough stint in the USA's Major League Soccer, trialled at Glasgow Rangers and been denied a work permit in England that scuppered a deal with Queen's Park Rangers, the striker from New Delhi knows how it stacks up.
Chhetri played for Mohun Bagan last season and would have been a top draw in the I-League this time around too. He will possibly earn less in Portugal, but Chhetri isn't complaining.
"It's not that money isn't a concern," he said, looking slightly overwhelmed by the occasion. "But what I'm really looking forward to is the exposure."
"It's way tougher out there, but having seen how some of these foreign clubs work, I have an idea of what to expect. I want to work so hard so that when I'm 40, I don't look back and feel that I could have done better," he said, hoping to make the best of the Iberian experience.
Since the mid-Noughties, Manchester United, Arsenal, Inter Milan, Everton and Bayern Munich have been sending feelers to the burgeoning Indian football audience. Signing Chhetri is possibly part of a bigger deal that will see Sporting Lisbon join the string of European clubs seeking a foothold into this market. Time will tell whether the gamble of getting India's most saleable star into the reserve team of a club that weaned Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani was worth it.
Sunil Chhetri timeline