Mohun Bagan legend Subrata Bhattacharya was a key member of the Indian team in the 1984 Asian Cup and he will be keenly following his son-in-law and captain Sunil Chhetri during the showpiece event starting in the UAE on Sunday.
Bhattacharya and Chhetri form a rare father-in-law and son-in-law duo to play for the country. For Chhetri, this edition will be his second Asian Cup participation, having played in 2011 in Doha.
“It is a very proud moment for our family to have two members to have played in the AFC Asian Cup. I played in 1984, and Sunil in 2011. Now he will represent India in his second Asian Cup – a feat which not many Indians have been able to achieve. It makes us three times prouder,” Bhattacharya said.
Chhetri, who married to Bhattacharya’s duaghter Sonam in 2017, is set to become the first-ever Indian to play in two editions of an AFC Asian Cup.
In fact, it was Bhattacharya who had “handpicked” Chhetri for Mohun Bagan when he was the coach of the famous Kolkata club. Chhetri had come for the trials.
“I had seen his talent when he was just a teenager and gave him his National Football League debut for Mohun Bagan,” Bhattacharya was quoted as saying by the official website of the All India Football Federation.
“Both Sunil and Subrata (Paul) were among the many kids who had come for trials at Mohun Bagan. I hand-picked them, based on their talent. The rest is history. Arguably they are two of the best players in their respective positions the country has ever seen,” said the former India defender.
So what stood out for Chhetri from the rest?
Bhattacharya believes that besides all the technical aspects, what made Chhetri one of the best footballers of the country is his involvement in the game, no matter which team he plays for.
“The most significant aspect about Sunil is that he always wants to be involved in the action. This is something I had noticed in both Mohammed Habib, and Shyam Thapa. That sets him apart from the rest,” said Bhattacharya.
Bhattacharyya also put Chhetri in the same league as some of the greats of yesteryears.
“Sunil is one of the few current players who can be put in the same bracket as the legends we had back in the 60s and 70s — like Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Inder Singh, Shyam Thapa.”
At the moment, Chhetri is India’s highest goal scorer in international football with 65 goals from just over 100 matches.
“He has the obvious traits which you look for in a striker. He can turn a defender, he can shoot with both feet, he can pass, and has a great header — that too despite his short stature,” he said of his son-in-law.