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Who Could Be India’s Next Sunil Chhetri? What Do Indian Football Fans Think?

Could anyone carry Sunil Chhetri's legacy in the Indian team forward? We asked fans, here's what they had to say.

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151 matches, 94 goals, 4 hat-tricks, 11 trophies, 18 years and 359 days – among the more glorious chapters of Indian football, one titled ‘Sunil Chhetri’, concluded on 6 June, in the sight of 58, 921 fans in Kolkata’s Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan.

For all the accolades the past brought, it is now time for Indian football to usher into what appears to be an uncertain future, with one pressing question lingering in everyone’s minds – who could carry Sunil Chhetri’s legacy forward?

We spoke with fans who had arrived to witness Chhetri’s farewell, and these are the names they mentioned:

1. Lallianzuala Chhangte

Could anyone carry Sunil Chhetri's legacy in the Indian team forward? We asked fans, here's what they had to say.

Why is the most popular name among fans to be Chhetri’s successor a winger, and not a number nine? The answer lies in the preference of Indian Super League coaches for overseas recruits in the striker position, resulting in a limited pool of Indian strikers.

In terms of goal-scoring prowess, however, Lallianzuala Chhangte is as good as any Indian footballer currently active – highlighted by the fact that he was the leading Indian goal-scorer in last season’s ISL, with 10 goals.

Across four competitions for the defending ISL champions Mumbai City, Chhangte – the 26-year-old Mizo mage – featured in 33 matches, scoring 11 goals. Only one of those matches saw him playing as a striker, but he did find the back of the net in that game.

For the Indian team, Chhangte has already played 33 matches, scored 7 goals, and has already won four international trophies – two SAFF Championship titles in 2015 and 2023, the Tri-Nation Series in 2023, and the Intercontinental Cup in the same year.

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2. Manvir Singh

Could anyone carry Sunil Chhetri's legacy in the Indian team forward? We asked fans, here's what they had to say.

Albeit he has played in nearly every position an attacker could play, Manvir Singh had started his career as a number 9, and predominantly was deployed in that position till the 2019/20 season.

The move to Mohun Bagan Super Giants – erstwhile ATK Mohun Bagan – in 2020 saw opportunities to play as a striker getting reduced, but he still remains a crucial member of what is among the more potent attacking teams in Indian football.

In the last season, wherein the Mariners won the Durand Cup and the ISL League Winners’ Shield, Manvir played 34 matches and had 16 goal contributions – scoring six, and assisting ten. He played a couple of matches as a striker, and was on the scoresheet on both occasions.

Like Chhangte, Manvir has also scored seven goals for the Indian team, although, at 28, the Punjab-born player is more experienced, and has had nine more appearances in international football.

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3. Vikram Partap Singh

Could anyone carry Sunil Chhetri's legacy in the Indian team forward? We asked fans, here's what they had to say.

It has not even been six months since Vikram Partap Singh’s debut in national colours, yet many fans think he is the ideal candidate to carry Chhetri’s legacy forward – a testament to his stellar 2023/24 season.

The 22-year-old has been knocking on the door of eminence for four years now, but the last season saw him not knocking, but demolishing the door down to announce his arrival.

Another Mumbai City player, Vikram had 14 goal contributions in 33 matches – 9 goals and 5 assists. In the only match he played as a centre-forward, against NorthEast United in the ISL, the prodigy from Chandigarh scored a hat-trick.

Though he is yet to score his debut international goal, having played only three matches, Vikram has certainly shown enough promise to be regarded as a potential showstopper for the future.

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The Other Notable Mentions

Could anyone carry Sunil Chhetri's legacy in the Indian team forward? We asked fans, here's what they had to say.

Though he is still only 20 years old, Gurkirat Singh has scored only three goals in his professional career. A multitude of reasons halted his progress, but should every piece of his puzzle be arranged as per their assigned positions, he could be a decent option, considering his exemplary strength for a player of his age.

Could anyone carry Sunil Chhetri's legacy in the Indian team forward? We asked fans, here's what they had to say.

In his 17th appearance for India, Rahim Ali could finally have ended his desperate hunt for the maiden international goal. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as he could not capitalise on two rather propitious opportunities. There have been, however, glimpses of promise, as he has scored 10 goals in 71 ISL matches.

Could anyone carry Sunil Chhetri's legacy in the Indian team forward? We asked fans, here's what they had to say.

Ishan Pandita spent his formative years in Spain, honing his skills in the academies of fairly renowned clubs like UD Almeria and CD Leganes, before he arrived in India four years ago.

Could anyone carry Sunil Chhetri's legacy in the Indian team forward? We asked fans, here's what they had to say.

Naorem Mahesh Singh scored three goals in his first 13 appearances for India, following an excellent breakout season for East Bengal in 2022/23, where he scored five goals and seven assists. Indian fans will hope he can continue his prolific run.

Among the other names mentioned by the fans were Brandon Fernandes and Sahal Abdul Samad. Whilst neither play as a number 9, or even used to do so at some point in their careers, they can be deployed as false 9 should need be. Fernandes has scored 25 goals in 163 club appearances, but is yet to score his maiden goal for India. Sahal has scored 20 goals in 133 club appearances, and three goals in 37 appearances for India.

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Postscript – Should We Be Worried?

Though we are mentioning it as a postscript, opting to have an optimistic outlook, an alarming number of fans stated India will not be able to produce another player of Sunil Chhetri’s kind. One could blame recency bias for the take, but with Indians hardly getting any opportunities to play as a striker, should we not be worried?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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