AFC Asian Cup 2019: Sunil Chhetri is no Lionel Messi, but Argentine legend can do well to be as impactful as Indian talisman

Messi is a global benchmark in football and Chhetri is one just for Indian football, but his impact on Indian football team beats how much Messi impacts Argentina.

Kaushal Shukla January 07, 2019 20:04:12 IST
AFC Asian Cup 2019: Sunil Chhetri is no Lionel Messi, but Argentine legend can do well to be as impactful as Indian talisman
  • Sunil Chhetri has been Indian football’s relentless hero in the past decade and he’s not done yet.

  • As India decimated Thailand, Chhetri took his tally of international goals to 67, overtaking Lionel Messi is the list of active international goal scorers.

  • Messi could very well go down as the greatest footballer of all time, but at the end of the day, he might miss being the Sunil Chhetri of Argentine football.

Abu Dhabi: In 2008, India sealed a return to the AFC Asian Cup after a gap of 27 years when they beat Tajikistan in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup. Sunil Chhetri scored a hattrick. Three years later, India scored their first goals in AFC Asian Cup in 47 years as they went down 2-5 to Bahrain. Chhetri got one of the two strikes. Then on 6 January, 2019, the Blue Tigers beat Thailand 4-1 to win a game in the AFC Asian Cup after 54 years. A certain Chhetri was among the goals again as his brace set India on its way. Sunil Chhetri has been Indian football’s relentless hero in the past decade and he’s not done yet.

AFC Asian Cup 2019 Sunil Chhetri is no Lionel Messi but Argentine legend can do well to be as impactful as Indian talisman

As India decimated Thailand, Chhetri took his tally of international goals to 67 to get past Lionel Messi is the list of active international goal scorers. AIFF

On Sunday, as India decimated Thailand to everyone’s surprise to open their campaign with a win, Chhetri took his tally of international goals to 67, overtaking Lionel Messi in the list of active international goalscorers. The 34-year-old is now only behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

With Chhetri and Messi, there is little room for any comparison. The Indian has often distanced him from the statistic or any parallels it draws. Chhetri is not Messi and it’s an unfair comparison.

However, the gulf between Chhetri and Messi doesn’t by any means belittle the Indian’s feat. Scoring that amount of goals for your country comes with its own sets of difficulties and challenges and Chhetri has done it consistently for 15 years. The Indian plays down the Messi comparison, but is more welcoming of being the nation’s all-time leading scorer.

"I love to play for my country and whenever I have been given an opportunity, I try my best to score for my country. As far as comparisons are concerned, I don't take them seriously. There's no comparison, whatsoever, between me and Lionel Messi. I'm just happy and honoured to play and score for my country," Chhetri told reporters in Abu Dhabi after India’s win.

The veteran forward’s achievement seems even more remarkable considering he has always played with fairly average teammates and against teams with similar competitive level. India haven’t been able to produce a replacement for their best goalscorer and his eventual departure could leave a big hole in the national side.

Chhetri has a strong character and such players are hard to come by. There may be a player with similar or even better skill sets, but to deliver sustained success over a period of time while carrying the burden of your team is a big ask. Chhetri has almost always delivered when the need has been paramount and pressure at its maximum.

Thus there maybe just one aspect where a possible comparison with Messi would leave the Argentine a bit short. Messi, like Chhetri, has carried the weight of expectations of his nation for the past few years, but unlike Chhetri, he has been bogged down by it. Of course, playing for Argentina and playing for India is not the same, but the act of performing under pressure has no metric.

Messi is as prolific as Chhetri in Argentine colours, but his performances in competitive games isn’t as good compared to friendlies. Messi averages 0.41 goals per game in competitive matches that include World Cups, Copa Americas and its qualifiers. That averages shoots up to 0.7 in friendlies. This shows Messi is not the same player for Argentina in the bigger games.

For Chhetri, the figure is more consistent. In fact, Chhetri’s performance in competitive games is slightly better than in friendly matches. He averages 0.71 goals per game in competitive fixtures and 0.68 goals per game in friendlies.

The eyeballs on Messi are obviously a lot higher considering he is a global icon, and hence the pressure to perform is also much more. But it’s fair to say that Messi could do with a bit of Chhetri’s mental strength that sees him deliver the goods for his national team despite extreme weight of expectations.

Messi is a global benchmark in football and Chhetri is one just for Indian football, but his impact on Indian football team beats how much Messi impacts Argentina.

Messi has all the tricks in the book and could very well go down as the greatest footballer of all time, but at the end of the day, he might miss out on being the Sunil Chhetri of Argentine football.

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