If it is Messi for Argentina, Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal, the face of Indian football for the past two decades was Sunil Chhetri. Indian football icon and captain of the national team, Sunil Chhetri, has announced his retirement from international football. His last match will be against Kuwait in the World Cup Qualifiers on June 6.

The news hits hard for anyone who has cherished Indian football since the early 2000s. Chhetri made his international debut against Pakistan on June 12, 2005, where he scored his first goal. Over an illustrious 19-year career, he netted 94 goals in 150 matches, becoming a beacon of hope and inspiration for Indian football.

In a country where football struggles to break free from cricket’s shadow, Chhetri emerged as the face of the sport, igniting a passion in countless young minds. He led India to remarkable victories, including the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008, the SAFF Championships in 2011 and 2015, the Nehru Cup thrice, and the Intercontinental Cup in 2017 and 2018.

Chhetri’s contributions go beyond his goals. He has been honoured with the AIFF Player of the Year award seven times, the Arjuna Award, the Khel Ratna , and the Padma Shri. FIFA recognised his exceptional career with a three-part documentary released before the 2022 World Cup, celebrating his journey and achievements.

In his retirement announcement on X, Chhetri reflected, “The feeling that I recollect in the last 19 years is a very nice combination between duty, pressure, and immense joy.”

His words capture the essence of a career defined by unwavering commitment and a deep love for the game.

Indian football coach Igor Stimac once said of Chhetri, “When I first saw him in 2019, they were back to the National Team camp after a long gap following the AFC Asian Cup. A few boys were new, but the fire in his belly probably was more than anyone else. That’s the secret of his long career.” ThoughChhetri was widely criticised for his free kick against Kerala Blasters which led to the infamous walkout incident in ISL 2022, he still stands as the epitome of hard-work and how a sportsman should be dedicated when he dons the national jersey.

For Indian cricket fans, number 7 is forever linked to MS Dhoni, and number 10 is synonymous with Sachin Tendulkar. Similarly, for any Indian football fan, it is hard to imagine anyone else wearing the number 11 jersey other than Chhetri.

As he dons the Indian jersey for one last time, let us come together to support the Blue Tigers and honour this incredible journey.

Thank you, captain, leader, and legend, for inspiring generations and for everything you have done for the nation. We will forever cherish the memories you have given us.