Sunil Chhetri’s dream of joining a top football league could be born in the USA soon. Two of Chhetri’s India teammates said the striker left for the USA on Tuesday. He is likely to sign a long-term deal with Major League Soccer (MLS) club Kansas City Wizards.
If that happens, Chhetri, 25, will be the first Indian footballer in the MLS and the first since Bhaichung Bhutia to play abroad professionally.
Bhutia spent three seasons from 1999 with Bury FC in the English second division.
“I had no idea of the MLS. The club saw me on YouTube and wanted to see more. My agent sent a CD and then I got called for trials earlier this month. I spent five days with them,” Chhetri told the Hindustan Times earlier.
New Delhi is his home but Chhetri’s played in Kolkata (for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal), was with Punjab club JCT and had joined Goa giants Dempo on a two-year contract this season.
“It was really sweet of them (Dempo) to release me mid-season once I made them understand the kind of opportunity that this could be for me. I mean,
I could be making the jump from 132 (India ‘s current FIFA ranking) to a country that is 18th (the USA ‘s FIFA ranking),” he said.
Chhetri is the only Indian to score a hattrick in the final of an international tournament (AFC Challenge Cup in 2008). The 4-1 win over Tajikistan in New Delhi helped India
qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup for the first time since 1984.
He had earlier been a trialist with Coventry City and Queen’s Park Rangers in England.
“Not making it in England was frustrating but the difference this time is that I will be part of the main division
(neither team he trialled play in the Premier League),” said Chhetri, voted the Best Indian Footballer last December by his peers.
The significance of this move isn’t lost on Chhetri but he said this is the first step.
“They play a lot of friendlies and that will give me
time to acclimatise and adjust. My first job would be to break into the first 20,
then the first 18 and finally the first 11.
“It’s going to be very tough but I am prepared to rough it out.” In a month that has already had Saina Nehwal
becoming the first Indian woman in the All-England badminton championships semifinals and
Karun Chandhok putting an Indian on the F1 grid again, Chhetri’s impending deal could be another reason for cheer.