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First Look: Chhetri to play against Manchester United

By Manu Shankar
Last updated on: July 20, 2010 11:26 IST
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Sunil ChhetriSunil Chhetri has been knocking on the doors of global football for a while now. The Indian striker, who has impressed one and all with his abilities, was offered a trial stint with Coventry City, which is a second division English club.

In fact, he could have made it to English Championship club Queens Park Rangers last year, had he not been denied a work permit by the British government.

However, he was destined to make it to USA's Major League soccer, where he made his debut for Kansas City Wizards against Colorado Rapids.

He had a disappointing start to the MLS, though, as he failed to score and was shown a yellow card for a reckless tackle.

But things have changed since then and he is set to play one of the biggest matches of his life.

Chhetri looks all set to play against Manchester United, and if he does that, he will be the first Indian to play against the Red Devils.

Wizards President Robb Heineman on Sunday confirmed Chhetri's participation against the Red Devils on July 25. 

If it comes to pass, he will be pitted against the likes of Wayne Rooney, Nani, Fabio and Rafael.

For a player who never wanted to be a footballer in the first place, it's a significant achievement, after the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia and Mohammed Salim, to play in professional league.

Indian footballers have been slowly making their mark at the international level, with defender Gourmangi Singh also getting a trial stint with Australian A-League Melbourne Heart FC. Besides this, striker NP Pradeep and midfielder Steven Dias too have received offers from various Malaysian clubs.

While Salim was the first India footballer to join a professional football club, with the Celtic FC in the 1936-37 season, Bhutia followed with a stint at Bury FC in 1999.  

Though one can say that the likes of Bhutias and Salims had limited opportunities, Chhetri has made the most of the opportunities that came his way.

The 25-year-old started his football career playing for school teams and then for his local club, City Club. Since then, he has represented I-League clubs Mohun Bagan, East Bengal Club and JCT FC.

Although he had a forgettable Bagan season, where the club finished at the bottom half of the league table, in the next three seasons with the JCT Phagwara he scored 20 goals, helping JCT finish second in the league.

The performance earned him the Player of the Year award. Afterwards he played for East Bengal and scored seven goals in a season where they finished sixth.

Curerently with Dempo SC, Chhteri's rise to stardom came in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, where he scored a hat-trick in the final against Tajikistan. He has been a consistent performer at the international level, playing key roles in the Nehru Cup, SAFF championship and AFC Challenge Cup.

In the 2009 Nehru Cup, he even scored one of the crucial penalties which helped India retain the Nehru Cup.

And with the Indian team training in Portugal and getting exposure, things are looking bright for Indian football.

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Manu Shankar

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