THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

Raman Vijayan bats for Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri celebrates his goal

Sunil Chhetri celebrates his goal

Among the crests of the 2013/14 Airtel I-League, the biggest hurrah has been the flurry of goals scored by Indian players, a fact that has been alien to the country’s top draw competition ever since Raman Vijayan scored 10 goals to Cheema Okorie’s 9 goals to become the top-scorer way back in the 1997/98 National Football League (NFL) season.

But it seems India and Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri is hell-bent on bucking the trend this time. The All India Football Federation Player of the Year, the highest scorer in the Airtel I-League at the moment with 13 goals to his name (as on March 27, 2014), is on the cusp of becoming the first Indian in the I-League era to finish as the highest scorer in a single edition.

“I’ll be the happiest person if Sunil finishes as the top scorer, and by the look of things I am sure he will,” Raman Vijayan told AIFF Media.

“Things are slowly improving as far as Indian strikers as far as the Airtel I-League is concerned. A couple of years ago it was all about the Ranti Martins and the Odafa Okolies. Our strikers used to warm the benches more often than not. But it’s heartening to see the trend changing slowly,” added the former India international.

The top-five Indian goal-getters which include Sunil (13), Balwant Singh (9), Boithang Haokip (5), Sabeeth Sathyan (4) and Jeje Lalpekhlua (4) have altogether already scored 35 goals compared to last season’s tally of 30.

“It’s good to see the mentality changing. Indian coaches now looking to strike a balance and not build it around one ‘so called marquee player.’ The overdependence on Odafa and Ranti has reduced considerably and it’s a very positive sign.”

“But at the same time we need more Indian strikers starting for their respective clubs. We are heading in the right direction and I hope to see more players like Balwant in the coming seasons.”

Commenting on the Churchill Brothers’ talisman who broke made his international debut against Bangladesh in Goa, Vijayan said: “I watched Balwant play in the Federation Cup. I was really impressed. This lad has a lot of potential and is a perfect foil for Sunil in the national team.”

For the record, Chhetri, also an Arjuna Awardee, has already equalled the record of most goals scored by an Indian in a single season since the inception of the I-League in 2007.

Moreover, the highest-ever Indian goalscorer in international football is on the verge of eclipsing Indian football icon Baichung Bhutia’s record of most number of goals by an Indian in a single edition of the National Football League (NFL) or I-League. Bhutia had scored 14 goals for JCT in the inaugural edition of NFL back in 1996-97 Season and Chhetri has four games up his sleeve to net two and better that longstanding feat.

(Report courtesy AIFF Media)