The club that has given the world players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo will be home to Indian football’s poster boy Sunil Chhetri for the next one year as he has been signed by Sporting Clube de Portugal,popularly known as Sporting Lisbon.
Chhetri,who will be flying to the Iberian country in another two weeks’ time,will be drafted into the club’s B side initially. Based on his performance,the club will take a call on whether he should be fast-tracked into the main squad.
“From 163rd (India’s FIFA ranking) to playing in the 5th ranked nation in the world,it’s one opportunity I will never forget in my life,” Chhetri said after the deal was made official,here today.
Chhetri,naturally,is aware that a tough test awaits him in Europe.
“I will have to do a lot of hard work. I will leave no stone unturned,so that I don’t regret later in my life. When I am 40,I don’t want to feel that I could have done better,” he added.
Though the modalities of the deal are yet to be worked out,Chhetri is certainly going to play this season.
“I am excited. I want to see where do I stand…want to grab it with both hands. I can’t let go this opportunity.”
Chhetri is no stranger to Portugal and he has been there a few times on a training-cum-exposure trip as part of the Indian squad.
“The training facilities there are excellent. Now,I feel like a 14-year-old. I will not be Sunil Chhetri there (referring to his popularity in India).”
While Chhetri was naturally over the moon,no less excited was ALL India Football Federation president Praful Patel,who called the development a “beginning of a new era” in Indian football.
“It is truly a very remarkable occasion for Indian football. It’s an important milestone. He will be playing shoulder to shoulder with some of the top players of the world. This is a beginning of a new era in Indian football,” Patel told reporters.
“Sunil will bring a lot of focus of the international football community towards India,” Patel said.
Emphasising on the youth development programme,Patel said,”AIFF’s objective is that if India’s football has to be on par with the rest of the world,we need to have a strong base. The real issues in football in India sometimes gets ignored by media,but the AIFF is now trying very hard to improve grassroots of the game.”
A jersey of the Sporting Lisbon club was presented to Chhetri by the club’s vice president Aureliano Oliveira Neves.
“Our purpose together with Indian football federation is to help design the right path for increasing football in India. Signing Chhetri is our first sign of commitment to Indian football.”
Portuguese Ambassador to India,Jorge Roza de Oliveira,observed: “How can a nation with 1.2 billion people not produce 11 football players?”
“We have the right right infrastructure and academies. 11 of the 23 players of the Portugal team in Euro have played forour club,” Oliveira pointed out.