"I have lived a dream:" Sunil Chhetri on his 19-year long illustrious career

After his 150 games for the Indian National football team, Sunil Chhetri feels he has lived a dream. He will play his last international match on June 6 against Kuwait in Kolkata.

Koushik Biswas
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I have lived a dream: Sunil Chhetri on his 19-years long illustrious career -
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After 150 games, 94 goals, 7 trophies and so many memories, Indian Men's Football team captain and legend Sunil Chhetri will don the Indian colours for the final time on June 6th, when India will take on Kuwait in the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers in Kolkata. The 39-year-old striker has seen everything in Indian football from glory days to days when even his countrymen did not want to support and visit stadiums to see them play. 

With all of these, Sunil Chhetri is a proud man, a proud footballer who gave everything for the country. "I have lived a dream," Sunil said in the virtual press meet set up by the AIFF media on Friday. 

"Thank you for being there"

Sunil Chhetri -

Sunil, first thanked all the media persons who have been a part of his and the Indian football team's journey in the last 19 years. "Thank you for being there in the last 19 years. Not only individually for me but for the team as well. It was a great ride. Thank you for supporting, encouraging and writing and covering stuff about me and my team" Sunil said.

Talking about his last game and how he the Indian captain has been preparing mentally for the final game of his international career, Sunil feels he is still unsure how he will behave on that night in Kolkata after the game. "I am not sure how I will behave. I am not thinking about that right now. I will cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, we're just thinking about Kuwait," Sunil answered.

In a career such long as Chhetri's, the medical team has played a pivotal role in keeping him fit and fine for 150 games. "They (the medical team) were amazing. I think individually to take care of my health in terms of precaution, wasn't that difficult. I was really blessed to have a lot of people who had a lot of good information, a lot of good knowledge. All the physios, all the doctors have been outstanding."

Read Also: Players with the most appearances for India in International Football

"I have lived a dream"

Sunil Chhetri -

For India and South Asian Football, Sunil has been one of the greatest leaders and players of this generation. Not only this generation, but for the many coming generations Sunil will be leaving a path for them to follow. However, a lot of the next generation will have to rely on YouTube videos and highlights to watch this master in action. But, they might not be able to realise how Chhetri changed the dynamic of football in a country of over a billion. 

"I have some videos that kids are going to watch. When you say kid, I've got one at my home. I'm pretty sure when he grows up he's gonna say, toh fir kya kiya hai apne? It's a part of being an older generation. When I was playing, I never played for the reason that someday people are going to brag about me or praise me. I've got so much. I'm at peace and I'm really happy and I've lived a dream."

There will be other players who are going to be doing well and that generation of kids are going to talk about those players."

Read Also: Sunil Chhetri's Special Moments in Indian Football

On missing the 100-goal mark

FIFA 2026 World Cup AFC qualifiers all you need to know: When, where to  watch India vs Kuwait; full schedule - Sportstar

Sunil at 94 goals for the national team, was really close to the historical 100-goal mark. He could have become the first and only Indian to reach that landmark. However, despite being so close to the landmark, Sunil does not hollow about missing the opportunity to score the 100th goal for India. He said, “I don’t hollow about missing 100 goals. I am proud about playing 150 matches for the country.”

Sunil believes it is not the goals he scored but the value he added to the success of the national team and being able to do that for 150 games is what makes him the proudest. 

"If I tell you about something that I did well, I think at the top most would be that I've played 150 games. No one can take that away from me. I'm extremely proud of it. No matter what happens tomorrow, no one can take that away from me," Sunil expressed.

When did Sunil think it was his time to say goodbye?

"15 days post-Afghanistan game," Sunil started thinking about retirement -

Though Sunil announced his retirement on Thursday, he had decided that the Kuwait game would be his last right after the match against Afghanistan on 26 March in Guwahati this year. "15 days post-Afghanistan game," when he started thinking about retirement. "I think I don't know the exact date, but that's the time that I started thinking (about) how I feel physically, what our next goals are, what is going to happen to the national team, what are the matches how does it look. All these things taken together I came to the decision," Sunil added.

The next No. 9?

Sunil Chhetri believes Sahal, Manvir, Channgte can be India's next No. 9 -

Even before his retirement, there were lots of talks about who is going to be the next No. 9 for team India. Repeating himself from the past Sunil expressed that there are lots of talents who can play as a No. 9, they just need to step up and take that role in their clubs as well. 

"I have stopped so when I'm with the players. I don't talk about what the club should do or what the management should do. What I tell the players is you got to step up and I know it's not easy for No. 9. because I've played No. 9 the majority of my life. I understand the dynamics it's not gonna be easy but then once you beat that mentality and perform. so my appeal to them whenever I talk to them is to talk to a coach and say I want to be a number nine."

Referring to players like Shivashakthi, Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh, Vikram Pratap Singh, and Lalianzuala Chhangte, Sunil said all of these players are good enough to take up the role of the No.9 in the national team alongside players like Anirudh Thapa who have done well for Mohun Bagan Super Giant as a No.10. 

"A lot of the attacking players are doing really well. Whether you take the two finalists, Liston and the Manveer or the Bipin, Vikram Pratap, Chhangte or Sahal, all these attacking players, they have done really well. I'm pretty sure with the talent we have, and with the hunger we have, we'll get it we need to be a little bit patient," Sunil added.

Talking about his dreams for the National team, Sunil believes that even as a developing footballing country, India can be among the top 10 Asian teams and be there for a long time with the way the team is moving at the moment. 

Sunil had a word with Virat Kohli before taking the decision

Sunil Chhetri had a word with Virat Kohli before announcing his retirement -

Before deciding to call it a day, Sunil along with his family and friends, had a word with the Indian cricketer Virat Kohli, with whom he shares a special bond as well. "I did (have a chat with Virat). We are quite close now. Most importantly we talk about these things because I think we both understand the next person. We do understand that the other person understands it. I wish him all the best for the game on the 18th," Sunil answered when he was asked if he had a word with Kohli before deciding to retire.

On 6th June, Sunil will be playing his last and final game for India in front of a packed house in Kolkata. After so many years in the blue colours, and tons of memories, Sunil now wants the match against Kuwait to be his best moment in the blue jersey. 

“Not qualifying for the Asian Cup in 2015 was one of the saddest parts of the national team journey. I hope on June 8th, I will be able to tell you that the Kuwait game was the best moment of my career."

Indian Football Sunil Chhetri