Indian football teams, controlled by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), represent India in all national and international football competitions. Indian football teams’ history dates far back, and they played their first international football game in 1924 with a squad containing British and Indian players.
Asian consider India one of the best teams in the continent, and they had their golden era in the 1950s and 60s. Considered as their golden era, India won gold in the 1951 and 1962 all Asian games; they finished fourth in the 1956 summer Olympics and became the first Asian country to reach the semi-final of a FIFA-related tournament.
The Indian national team has not played in the FIFA world cup, although they qualified automatically for the 1950 competition because the other teams in their group bowed out; India later withdrew for reasons best known to them. The Indian national team is the best in South Asia; they have participated in India’s most prestigious football Championship, the AFC Asian cup, four times and finished in second place once in 1964.
The Indian national team has also won the SAFF tournament title eight times, earning them the reputation of being the best football team in South Asia. The SAFF tournament, which first took place in 1993, is still South Asia’s most prestigious football event.Around the 70s, football lost some prominence in India, but the national team attained its highest-ever FIFA ranking of 96th in 1996.
Over time, many notable players have manned the position of captain in the Indian football team, but who is the current Indian football team captain?
Indian Football Team Captain
The Indian football team’s history is a long and interesting one that involves great players, coaches, and a lot of memories on and off the pitch. Several players have captained India, but Sunil Chettri is the longest and the most respected in Indian football history. Chettri is India’s all-time goal scorer with 84 goals from 133 international appearances, a goal tally only Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo can boast of.
To cement the importance of Sunil Chettri in the Indian national football team and his achievements as the third active highest international goal scorer, FIFA released a three-part documentary to honor his career. Chettri has come from making his international debut in June, 2005, against Pakistan, to being the most prolific Asian footballer.
To honor him, FIFA tweeted through their official world cup account, saying, “You know all about Ronaldo and Messi. Now get the definitive story of the third-highest-scoring active men’s international. Sunil Chhetri, Captain Fantastic is available on FIFA+ now,”
The synopsis of the first episode of the series says, “The first episode takes us back to where it all started…all leading up to his India debut at the age of 20. Close associates, loved ones, and footballing colleagues help tell the tale — apart from the man himself, the man affectionately dubbed, ‘Captain, Leader, Legend,”
The second episode focuses more on Chettri’s early life with the Indian national team and how he achieved his dream of playing football professionally. The third and final episode showcases the level he has reached as a professional football player and in his personal life.
Sunil Chettri was born on August 3, 1984; he captains the Indian football team and Indian Super League club, Bengaluru. He is arguably the greatest Asian footballer and is popular for his link-up play, agility, and goal-scoring ability. He began his professional football career at Mohun Bagan in 2002 and later moved to JCT. At JCT the Indian football sensation would end up scoring 21 goals in 48 appearances.
Sunil participated in the 59th edition of Santosh’s trophy with the Delhi team; he scored six goals in that competition, including a hattrick in the match against Gujarat. Delhi crashed out of the tournament in the quarter-finals after losing to Kerala, Chettri found the net in that match too, but it was not enough to save his team.
He moved to Kansas City Wizards, a Major League Soccer team, in 2010 and became the third subcontinent-of-note football player yet to sign for a team abroad. He later returned to the Indian l-League and signed for Chirag United, then Mohun Bagan before traveling abroad again to play for Sporting CP’s reserve side in the Primeira League.
Chettri was instrumental in the Indian football team that won the 2007, 2009, and 2012 Nehru Cups; he also helped them win the 2011, 2012, and 2015 SAFF Championships. With this being just the beginning, Chettri played an instrumental role in leading the Indian team to take home the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008. This was the first AFC Asian Cup the Indian football team would win in more than two decades. Chettri scored a brace in the final tournament in 2011.
Sunil Chettri has won the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) Player of the year award a record-setting seven times. He bagged the title in the years 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018-19, and 2021-22. The talismanic striker received both the Arjuna award and Padma Shri award (Indian fourth highest civilian award) in 2011 and 2019, respectively, for his incredible sportsmanship.
In 2021, Sunil also set the record as the first player to win the Khel Ratna award. The Khel Ratna is at the echelon of Indian sporting awards.
Club Football Career
Sunil Chettri started his professional football club career with Mohun Bagan in the National Football League after moving from New Delhi of the City Football Club. He began with the team in the 2002-03 season and scored four goals; the team finished 7th that season. He scored just two goals in his second season with Mohun Bagan while the team finished 9th.
In the 2004-05 season, Sunil scored two goals, helping the team to finish 8th in the league and remain in the National Football League thanks to goal difference.
Also Read: Oldest Football Club in India
Sunil signed for JCT for the 2005-06 season and scored just three goals in that campaign, twice against Salgaocar and once against Sporting Go. JCT finished 6th that season. In the 61st Santosh Trophy, Sunil bagged two hat tricks, one against Orissa and the other against Railways.
Chettri was back in good form for the 2006-07 season as he found the back of the net 12 times, while JCT finished in second place that season behind Dempo. Chettri played his biggest matches that particular season against his former clubs, Mohun Bagan and Dempo. He led his team to victory in both games by scoring braces in both matches giving his team 2-0 and 3-2 victories against Mohun Bagan and Dempo, respectively.
Also, in the first l-League season, JCT finished in third place as Sunil added seven more goals to his name. He bagged a brace in the last game of the season against Salgaocar; that was his only brace in that campaign. In the middle of the 2007 season, Chettri got the AIFF Player Of The Year Award for his overall performance for club and country.
Bids From Abroad
With his performance in the previous seasons, teams from abroad began to monitor Chettri; those clubs include Leeds United from English Football League One and Estoril Praia of Liga De Honra in the Portuguese second division. Chettri confirmed these rumors in an interview by saying he would sign for a team from England. However, the move did not happen.
Before the commencement of the 2008-09 season, Chettri signed for another l-League side, East Bengal; he scored in his first match for the team in a game against Chirag United as he helped the team claim a 3-1 victory. Later, he scored an important goal in a 1-0 win against his former club JCT in the confederation cup leading the team into the Semifinals.
They played another former team and arch-rival, Mohun Bagan, in the semifinal, Chettri lost a crucial penalty in that match, and East Bengal crashed out of the tournament. During that season, there was a rumor that there was interest from some Major League Soccer teams, especially LA Galaxy and D.C United to sign Chettri and his teammate Steven Dias.
On January 25th, 2009, Chettri moved to Coventry in Coventry City for a trial Campaign in the Football League Championship after rejecting MLS. Four days later, Coventry City Manager Chris Coleman announced that they wouldn’t be signing Chettri; not long after then, Chettri decided to go back to Coventry City for another trial campaign, but the move did not happen.
He moved to another l-League team, Dempo, where he signed a two-year contract that allowed him to go for trial matches abroad if the offer came.
Other Interests From Abroad
On August 7th, 2009, rumor has it that Celtic was planning to buy Chettri; the Scottish club had watched the Indian in a pre-season game against Santboia. Chettri later signed for an English Club, Queen Park Rangers, but the transfer did not pull through because the British government denied Sunil a work permit.
According to a publication by the Football Players Association Of India on their official website, Chettri’s work permit denial was because India was not in the top 70 in the FIFA ranking.
Reports came in March 2010 that Chettri was on a trial campaign with Kansas City Wizards in Major League Soccer. Several news outlets reported that he had participated in their pre-season matches. Later on March 24, 2010, Sunil officially signed for the team, becoming the third Asian to play outside the continent and the first to play in Major League Soccer.
The Kansas City manager said in an interview, “One thing we really like about Sunil is that he’s a crafty player. Technically he’s very sharp, and he’s a guy that has good attacking tendencies.” He made his debut in April 2010, but things didn’t go well, as he got a yellow card and was subbed off at halftime. Sunil later left the team on February 5th, 2011.
United Sikkim and Chirag United submitted a deal to sign Sunil, but he decided to sign for Sikkim; he represented the team in the 2010-2011 season and scored his first goal on April 3, 2011, against Dempo. He bagged a brace against ONGC to share points between both teams. He moved back to Mohun Bagan on July 22nd, 2011.
Chettr moved to Sporting CP B on July 4, 2012; he left the team and signed a loan deal with Churchill Brothers in 2013. He signed for Bengaluru on July 19, 2013, and then to Mumbai City, where he signed a contract that made him the highest-paid Indian Player in 2017. Sunil returned to Bengaluru for the 2015-16 and is still in that club till today.
Sunil Chettri made his debut appearance with the India U-20 football team in a match against Pakistan U-23, in the 2004 South Asia Game. On the 3rd of April 2004, Sunil scored a brace against Bhutan U-23, and on June 12th, 2005, he scored his first goal for the Indian senior national team in a match against Pakistan.
Sunil Chettri first represented the national team in an international tournament in the 2007 Nehru Cup. In the 6-0 victory against Cambodia, Sanil scored a brace and got another goal in the 3-2 defeat to Syria. He scored another goal as India defeated Kyrgyzstan 3-0, taking his goal tally to four in that tournament.
Sunil was instrumental in India’s 1-0 victory over Syria in the final to become champions in that tournament in 1997. Sunil represented India in their 2010 World Cup qualifier matches, and they crashed out in the first round through a 4-1 defeat from Lebanon. Sunil scored one goal for India and once in a 2-2 draw in the return leg, making it a 6-3 defeat aggregate for Chettri and his team.
Sunil played in the 2008 SAFF Championship, where he scored twice; he also participated in the AFC Challenge Cup, where he scored four goals, while India went home with the trophy taking them to their first Asian Cup since 24 years ago. Sunil became the captain of the India national team during the qualification stages of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup.
Sunil represented India in the 2016 Nehru Cup, where he scored once in the opening match, twice in the second game, and a crucial equalizer in the final to take the match to a penalty shoot-out, which India won 5-4.
2017 Till Present
India went on a 13-match unbeaten streak under the captaincy of Sunil and qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. He scored in 2021 in a match against Nepal to equal Messi’s record of 80 international goals. Chettri was sidelined for a long time due to injuries; he returned in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.
Chettri led the Indian national football team to a 2-0 victory against Cambodia in the 2023 AFC Asian cup qualifier match. Chettri netted two goals, leading the Indian national team to victory in the Salt Lake Stadium. In the next match, he continued his scoring streak, scoring from a freekick against Afghanistan, taking his international goal tally to 83. He also scored in a 4-0 victory against Hong-kong taking his international tally to 84 and only behind Ronaldo and Messi on the list.
Other Players That Have Captained India Include;
Ghosto was a defender and the first Indian football team captain in the Indian football team’s history. Ghosto started his football career at Kumartuli Athletic Club and later moved to Mohun Bagan in 1912, where he played till he retired. He became an Indian football team captain in 1924.
Ao was the first Indian football team captain after India gained independence from the British. He led India in the 1948 Olympics. He represented the Mohun Bagan throughout his club playing career.
- Sailen Manna
Manna was the Indian football team captain when they won the 1951 Asian games. Also, when the English FA published the list of top 10 captains in 1953, he was among. Sailen spent his entire club football career as a Mohun Bagan player; he was in the club for 19 years and became a legend. He passed away in 2012.
India won the 1962 Asian Games thanks to the involvement of PK Banerjee. His stellar achievements make him to be remembered as one of the greatest Indian football team captains of his era. He became a coach later in his career and had a successful spell with East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, and coached the Indian football team twice.
He is PK Banerjee’s brother and played as a midfielder for clubs like Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting in the 70s. Prasun captained the Indian football team five times throughout his career.
Late Chuni is one of the finest and most talented players the Indian national team has ever produced. Chuni Goswami was pivotal to the victory of the Indian national team in the 1962 Asian games when he served as the captain of the Indian national team. Transfer rumor is that Chuni rejected a bid from London giant Tottenham Hotspurs.
Ali is one of the most talented and prolific strikers the Indian National team has produced; with him as the captain, India won the 1974 Asian Youth Championship. He played for India between 1972-1984, featuring 72 times and scoring 23 goals.
Singh was the Indian national team captain in the Merdeka Cup, sidelined for a long time due to injuries. He returned to captain the team in 1973 in the Merdeka cup again.
Jarnail plays as a center-back (defender) and is one of the best in that position to have played for India. He captained the national team between 1965-1967.
Mohammed Habib captained the Indian national team from 1965 to 1975 while playing for the Indian national team.
At the 1970 Asian Games, Syed Nayeemuddin captained the Indian football team to a bronze medal. He is regarded as one of India’s all-time finest football players.
Gurudev Singh Gill
With more than 100 appearances for India in his football career, Gil captained the team in the 1978 Asian games in Bangkok. Also he is another football player to win the Arjuna award; he won it in 1978.
Sankhwalker captained the Indian national team for three years between 1983-86, he was the first stopper to lead the team, and he also won the Arjuna award in 1997.
VP played as a defender for Kerala; he led the Indian football team in a world cup qualifier and SAF matches in 1985.
He is one of the most talented footballers produced by India; Bhutia has established himself as a legend in the team and became the captain in 1998. Bhaichung was the captain when India won the 2005 SAFF Championship. He had a memorable last game; it was against Bayern Munich.
Subrata Paul (Active)
He is the second goalkeeper to captain the Indian football team and is one of the most outstanding stoppers produced by the national team. He is one of the active players on the list, and Paul has played for big clubs in India and was made the Indian national team captain for the 2008 world cup qualifier.
Sunil Chhetri (Current Captain)
Captain Fantastic is the current Indian National team leader; he is a legend and by far the greatest Indian Player ever. He is the all-time goal scorer with 84 goals and is only behind CR7 and LM10 in international goals. Chettri has more international guys than the likes of Pele, Maradona, Neymar, and so on. He is indeed a legend.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (Active)
Gurpreet is one of the greatest goalkeepers produced by the Indian national team, and he has spent several times in Europe to gain more experience. Singh captained India in a friendly match against Puerto Rico because Sunil and Paul were unavailable.
Sandesh Jhingan (Active)
Sandesh Jhingan (Active) Sandesh became the Indian football team captain in 2021 because of the unavailability of Sunil, making him the 19th captain to lead the Indian national football team. During his time as captain, he led the Indian football team to victories in the matches against Mauritius, St. Kitts, and Nevis.
Several top and great players have captained the Indian football team, but Sunil Chettri stands out among them all. He has the most goals and has captained the team to victory on different occasions.