Sunil Chhetri is a bonafide Indian footballing legend with an astonishing 92 international goals in 142 caps. This tally makes him not only India’s highest-ever goalscorer and record caps holder but also one of the highest-scoring figures in International football history.
To put it into perspective, Chhettri is behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in terms of active highest international goalscorers and is fourth in the list of all-time highest goalscorers with a better goal-per-game ratio than both Ronaldo and Messi.
Safe to say, he is instrumental in the national team’s success and a pivotal part of India’s attack. Even at age 38, the forward is consistently the Indian national team’s biggest asset and continues to find the net at a striking rate. In 2023, he scored six of India’s 11 international goals as the country lifted their 9th SAFF Championship title this year.
Despite the national team’s strong season, it is clear that this cannot continue forever. Though still prolific, Chhettri is approaching retirement rapidly, and there are strong doubts over whether the national team can cope with the day the veteran hangs up his boots.
So what lies ahead for India in the striker department? At a glance, the situation appears bleak. Coach Igor Stimac has tested players such as Ashique Kuruniyan, Rahim Ali, Ishan Pandita, Naorem Mahesh Singh and Liston Colaco in the position.
Over the last ten or so years, many prospective young strikers have been given a chance to challenge Chhettri for his position in the national team such as JJ Lalpekhlua, Robin Singh, Sumit Passi and Sushil Kumar, but with the exception of JJ Lalpekhlua’s 24 goals, none have managed to impress in the position and truly make it their own like Chhettri has done for years now.
However, with interest in Football rising within the country, the growth of the domestic league, and investments in coaching and infrastructure, there is optimism that Chhettri can be replaced by a young forward in the future. Among potential candidates are names such as Kiyan Nassiri, Joby Justin, Devendra Murgaonkar, and Ishan Pandita.
Nassiri, especially, is considered a promising prospect among fans of Indian Football. The 22-year-old is the son of former East Bengal striker Jamshid Nassiri and had a breakout season at Mohun Bagan. The young striker has 7 goals in 44 appearances and will look to build on his breakout year by securing more game time and allowing himself to develop.