Sunil Chhetri was over the moon for accepting token money for his first contract, recalls childhood coach

Sunil Chhetri began his journey by enrolling himself at the Mamta Modern Senior Secondary School in Vikaspuri, where he was spotted by his childhood coach Mohammad Sajid

Published - May 17, 2024 01:22 am IST - New Delhi

Sunil Chhetri. File

Sunil Chhetri. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

A 16-year-old Sunil Chhetri's joy knew no bounds when he was handed over a token amount of Rs 1000 for his first-ever contract with a Delhi-based club, recalled his childhood coach Mohammad Sajid on Thursday.

The legendary Indian captain, who has announced his retirement, began his journey by enrolling himself at the Mamta Modern Senior Secondary School in Vikaspuri, where he was spotted by Sajid.

It was Sajid who offered Chhetri his maiden club contract worth ?6500 and the player went on to make his first impression by winning the emerging player of the year award in his first season.

"Nageshwar Rao, a player from our City Football Club, facilitated my meeting with Sunil," Sajid told PTI in an exclusive interaction here at the Ambedkar Stadium.

"I still remember offering him a contract worth Rs 6500 per year and asked him to play in the Delhi League and the Durand Cup," said Sajid, who is now the City Club's CEO.

"As soon as I handed him the token (amount) of Rs 1000, he was elated — as if he had got a cheque worth lakhs of rupees. He was very happy and shared with me that with that money he wanted to give a treat to his friends," Sajid recollected.

"His (Chhetri's) potential was unwavering and I felt it from the first day that he must play outside Delhi as a professional, which would be fruitful for him." Chhetri went on to become the leading scorer for India with 94 goals in 150 matches.

"To see him play that level makes us proud. He has played for our club (and) now he is among the top-three players for scoring most goals in international football. He has worked really hard. Playing at that level for so long is also not an easy task," Sajid said.

Sajid also remembers Chhetri's journey from Delhi to Mohun Bagan.

“I am not in touch with Sunil but I still remember the first time I took him and an other player, Manoj Joshi, to Kolkata in a train to sign up for Mohun Bagan in 1999.”

"During that journey, I told him (Chhetri) that he really had a high potential and only if he remained focussed, nothing would stop him from playing for India. He proved my words right." Sajid said India do not have any player to replace Chhetri.

"No, I don’t see any player right now to replace Sunil. Maybe in the future, yes, but right now, there is no one." Sajid also wishes for Chhetri to step into the world of football administration after his retirement. "We just want to see him join the AIFF and do something for football in this country," he said.

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