On the fine morning of May 16, Indian Football Team captain Sunil Chhetri shocked everyone by announcing on his Instagram handle that the upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifier against Kuwait would be his final game in an Indian jersey.

In a recent interview with FIFA, Chhetri reflected on his career and shared his plans as he prepares to retire from his illustrious international journey. His thoughts not only showcase his passion and dedication to the game but also offer a glimpse into his future aspirations and the legacy he leaves behind.

Known for his disciplined approach to life, Chhetri humorously mentioned one of the first things he plans to do post-retirement:

“Food. Oh man, when I retire, I’m going to smash all of them! I’m quite regimental in the way I eat but I’m just going to let it go for five to ten days. I’m going for everything but especially the Indian dish of Aloo Paratha (a kind of flatbread stuffed with a potato filling),” Chhetri told FIFA.com

A well-deserved break and indulgence in his favourite foods are on his mind as he steps away from the international stage, where he has been a stalwart for many years.

Also Read: The prolific career of Sunil Chhetri: A look back at his most successful years 

Reflecting on his decision to retire, Chhetri explained how he came to this pivotal moment: “I think it was a month after the last [World Cup qualifier] we played against Afghanistan, it started with a feeling, an instinct. Then I worked backwards towards it, why I’m feeling it and things like that. Eventually, it took me a month to come to the conclusion that this is it. This is the time that I should leave.

“In the build-up to that, a lot of things came into my mind. I think it’s time for a new era of Indian football to start and I think the No. 9 position should be open for the younger ones to come and make a claim for. That was one very important reason,” he added.

The 39-year-old, who earned his 150th international cap in his final game against Afghanistan, felt it was the right time to hang up his boots. Chhetri also considered his personal circumstances when making this challenging decision.

“Second, the place where I am in my life right now was the reason why I also thought it was the right time. I kept this feeling for a month, it’s not easy because the kid inside me always wants to keep playing. So that was a real fight and I still go through it sometimes but I think the sane head, the mature one that is inside me, told me that this is it,” he remarked.

Chhetri’s reflections highlight the internal struggle and thoughtful consideration that led to his decision. The decision was ultimately a balancing act between his enduring passion for the game and the recognition that it was time to step back and allow younger talent to shine on the international stage.

Looking back on his remarkable career, Chhetri shared his pride not just in his achievements but in the hard work that made them possible. With 94 goals, he is currently the third-highest active goalscorer behind the two footballing legends, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

“When you play for 19 or 20 years you realise that there is no comparison [between me and some of those others]. I’m also a huge fan of both Messi and Ronaldo, I get motivated by both of them and I’m just happy that I could score goals for my country.

“I’m happier though that I’ve played 150 games for my country. There aren’t many who have done that and that’s something that nobody can take away from me. Playing 150 games, that longevity is something that I’m really proud of,” Chhetri added.

His dedication to hard work and discipline serves as an inspiration for future generations of footballers. As he prepares to leave the field for the last time, Chhetri expresses his hopes for the future of Indian football and the new generation of players.

“Firstly, I’m not sure my wife will like that idea! My wife’s father [Subrata Bhattacharya] is a former international and played football all his life, so my wife has already gone through a lot of emotional damage and distress. I’m not sure whether she will like it if our son also plays!"

“Of course even if my son is not there, with our next generation I can only see our country being better, I’ve got no doubt about it. The path and the journey will be difficult and how fast we reach our goals depends on all of us collectively coming together."

Chhetri also spoke about the realistic targets set by the team and the challenges of improving their rankings:

“The way we talk about it in the dressing room is that we are somewhere around 16-20 in terms of rankings in Asia. To go from 16 to 10 is going to be very difficult, there are some really strong teams, but that is the realistic target we have.

“As soon as we reach the top ten in Asia and we stay there, then you will see us rubbing shoulders with the likes of South Korea, Japan, Australia, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Qatar and then the answer will be very clear for everyone to see. Then I will not be asked this question because, right now, I don’t even know the right answer. But I do know what our targets are."

Chhetri’s vision for Indian football highlights its potential for growth and the collective effort required to achieve it.

“Our targets are to reach the top ten in Asia and stay there. It’s going to be eight-and-a-half teams from the next World Cup and that gives more hope and dreams to teams like us. But only when we reach the top ten in Asia and stay there can we reach that level,” Chhetri signed off.