Decoding The Chhetri Magic

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January 6, 2019
The Al Nahyan Stadium was buzzing. The atmosphere was electric. The fans back home were happy beyond control. What about Sunil Chhetri?
Sunil Chhetri was a relieved man. On a night of historic achievements, Chhetri couldn’t care more about his personal feats. The man had overtaken Lionel Messi, surpassing his tally of 65 international goals. It didn’t matter to him. India had won an Asian Cup match after 55 years, and a certain Sunil Chhetri was the commander in chief. After years and years of bruises, pain, heartbreaks and tears, Chhetri was a different man that night. Dreams of a billion were rekindled, and India had woken.

Chhetri
Dreams of a billion were rekindled, and Chhetri was the name on every lip.

Understanding Chhetri would leave a common person with surface level knowledge about football puzzled. Does he have a monstrous physique like Cristiano Ronaldo? No. Does he have seamless dribbling skills like Lionel Messi? Hell no. Then why is Chhetri such a big deal? We tried to decode this question, and hopefully you are presented with an answer by the end of this piece.

Decoding Chhetri

Chhetri is 1.7 meters tall, which isn’t less considering Indian standards but falls short when compared to footballers around the world. There was no way a striker of his frame would be scaring defenders. Or atleast those poor defenders thought so.

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You can only see as much as the outer body of a person, but the brain is a beautiful thing, and luckily for us, Chhetri does have a sneaky and smart brain to complement his football skills.
“He was perhaps never really a great dribbler. However, football is a dynamic game where you need to come up with solutions with regards to how to overcome those shortcomings,” said Subrata Bhattacharya, Chhetri’s coach at Mohun Bagan and now father-in-law (well played, Sunil). “And over the years, Sunil has done it majestically. To overcome his dribbling deficiencies, he worked extensively on his dodges, which has added the extra dimension to his game. It is this attitude towards the game that has helped him achieve.”

What cannot be done by brute force can be done by delicate yet humiliating actions. Chhetri has time and again made a fool out of defenders with his dodges, tactics and sudden sprints.

And you don’t need to take my word for it. The following are some exhibits of sheer planning and clever moves. And of course the opponent’s lack of homework in this matter too.

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Exhibit A
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Exhibit B
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Exhibit C

Many of Chhetri’s goals have come from avoiding the defenders through deceptions. In all the three exhibits, Chhetri deceives the defenders and catches them by surprise.

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After years and years of toiling and hard work, the skipper has gained a truckload of experience. This experience has developed in him an excellent vision and reading of the game. He knows when to time his runs, and does it effortlessly. With his pace and counter-attacking skills, Chhetri has become the player he is today. One of the most famous goals of Sunil Chhetri, the one against Kyrgyzstan in Bengaluru, is a model example of this.

Chhetri’s beautiful goal against Kyrgyzstan

Recieving the ball on the counter-attack, Chhetri dodged past three defenders and passed the ball perfectly to Jeje. He continued his run to the box and netted Jeje’s chip to give India the lead. The way he dodged past those three defenders is what we discussed about earlier. The shot looked easier than it was in reality. Chhetri’s foot touched the ball at the right second. If the ball had bounced, maybe the shot would have gone off-target. But that’s what Sunil Chhetri is – a hitman.

No offense meant, but India’s striker situation is similar to India’s economic situation. There’s the rich elite class at the top and the polar opposite down below. Sunil Chhetri belongs up there. What the man can do at 36 years of age cannot be replicated by others.

Sunil Chhetri scored an excellent goal in this match.

At 5:50, you can see how Chhetri outwitted the veteran Subrata Paul. The former knew that the goalkeeper could collect the ball if he wasted any second, and thus he jumped and headed the ball away from him and then shot the ball for a goal. Quick thinking along with clean reflexes is what makes Chhetri such a great player. Even after lacking in height, he can jump quite high, which is evident from the number of goals he has scored from headers.

In the game against Chennaiyin at home, Chhetri took a rocket shot and found a gap between the goalkeeper and the goalpost. This is what makes Chhetri great.

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And there’s no sign of stopping. A look at his stats from the 2018-19 and 2019-20 season shows that Chhetri isn’t slowing down. His goals per game increased slightly, passing accuracy increased by almost 6%, interceptions increased by a huge margin and blocks too increased.

At 36, our captain says he never felt as fit as he is now, and that is a welcome sign. We wouldn’t want our leader to retire soon, leaving the team in a bad state. We want our legend to guide us to brighter days and do our country more proud. The Captain, Leader, Legend is not yet done asserting his dominance, and we hope he never stops doing so soon.

Read about Sunil Chhetri’s inspirational journey here.

Watch our tactical analysis of Sunil Chhetri

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Harsh Murarka
A Mumbai City FC and Indian football supporter. Liked sports, wrote fairly decent, and turned into a part time football writer in a matter of time. Couldn't have had it better.

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