Sunil Chhetri hopes all can go happy after his India swansong on June 6!

Sunil Chhetri’s phone hasn’t stopped buzzing in the last 48 hours. But nothing’s surprising about that. A living legend of Indian football announcing his retirement after 19 years of service to the nation, of course, everyone wants to speak to him, know his thoughts. A 10-minute farewell speech was never going to be enough to talk about a career so grand. And even perhaps the hour-long media interaction that the Indian captain held on Friday, May 17, must not have felt enough for most.

What Chhetri wishes is that “the retirement jazz” should not continue after today (Friday, May 17, 2024), for India have a massive match on the horizon in three weeks’ time. Putting it as humbly as possible, June 6 will be about one of India’s greatest-ever players, but more than that it will be about the nation. With a win, India would take a big step towards qualifying for the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers for the first time.

“For now we’re just thinking about Kuwait,” said Chhetri. “Thankfully at the camp, everything is done and dusted. We are quite calm. All of us are just thinking about Kuwait and nothing else.

“The last two days have only been about me, but I’m doing this press conference only with the hope that we finish it today. From tomorrow, it should just be about the national team. I got a lot of admiration and my phone has been off because of the number of messages and calls I’ve received. I feel very fortunate. But I hope you understand that from tomorrow onwards, we just talk about Kuwait and our qualification,” he said.

But today, Chhetri had enough time to speak about his monumental career. The 20-year-old Chhetri would’ve never have imagined even in his wildest dreams that he would hit these numbers and statistics two decades down the line. Currently, he’s at 94 goals, and probably will not be able to complete his century, but that is not going to give him sleepless nights.

“When I started, I never thought I’m going to score so many goals. Because it was never a part of any planning, agenda or dream. I don’t feel hollow (that I didn’t reach 100). I’m just very fortunate. 150 games. That’s the number that I really love. And I’m proud of 150 games and playing 19 years for the country. I’m fortunate, privileged and happy about it. As far as the number of goals is concerned, I’m just happy that I could score 94 times for my country, and not reaching a hundred doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve never thought about it,” he shared.

But Chhetri didn’t build his 19-year-old career alone. Off the pitch, his family always provided him unconditional support, and on the training pitch, “all the national team physios, doctors and masseurs have been outstanding,” he thanked.

“They were amazing, taking care of my health. I’ve expressed my gratitude to them a lot of times, but I want to say it again without them. There’s one particular person, Gigy George, who’s been with the national team for more than 12 years, and is one of the reasons I’ve been able to take to the pitch and perform many times.

“Without all the medical staff, playing so many games wouldn’t have been possible. I genuinely mean it. There were times where I couldn’t even walk. They made me run. There were times where things looked very dim as far as my injuries were concerned, but they just applied the magic and I couldn’t be more thankful for whatever they have done,” he said.

Now Chhetri has one last game in an India shirt to look forward to. In Kolkata, at the VYBK, a venue very close to his heart, in front of a very special crowd.

“Just come and encourage us as you always do. No matter how the local clubs are performing in Kolkata, they come in numbers and are outstanding whenever the national team play. So just don’t be nervous. I know it’s a big game. Let’s enjoy it, and hopefully, we can all go happy after the game,” he dropped a message for the Kolkata fans.

Life will be different for the captain after June 6, but football won’t stop.

“June 6 is when I retire. June 7, we’ll probably spend a lot of time crying. From June 8, I will try and relax and take a break. I want to stay with my family. And then from the first week of July, we will start our pre-season with Bengaluru FC.”

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