In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Indian national team captain Sunil Chhetri is now going to don the famous Green and White colours of Sporting Clube de Portugal's B team, which plays in the Liga de Honra, which is Portuguese second division.
The news was announced officially on the club's website, with a press release stating, "We have reached out to Indian football, aiming at its development in a market estimated by FIFA, to be of more than 20 million players, and in this context, Sunil Chhetri, captain of the Indian Football Association, an idol in that country, who symbolizes the dreams of all young players who aspire to play in Europe, will join the roster of the team "B",” the release said.
“With our experience in detecting and developing top players, we are ready, together with local partners, to find the best solutions to accelerate the development of football in India and find values that young people are likely to integrate in other stages of formation. A demonstration of the quality of our services reflects on our business value in one of the world’s most emerging markets," it added.
Chhetri was quoted as saying, "It is a real pleasure for me and an exciting moment in my career to join a European giant like Sporting Lisbon. I have dreamt of this day and always believed that my time will come. It is now a reality. Sporting Lisbon, my agent Yogesh Joshee from Matchworld and Football One has made it possible for me and I will make it count for India. Thank you so much."
The striker, who had quite a disappointing season with Mohun Bagan last time around, scoring just 5 goals in the I-League but was in stellar form for the nation in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship, got the opportunity thanks to Football One, the football arm of new Wizcraft International Entertainment venture Sports One, who helped facilitate the transfer, giving the striker the opportunity to play in the Portuguese SuperLiga.
Sporting Clube de Portugal, who are one of the traditional powerhouses of the game in Portugal alongside Benfica and Porto, have also partnered with Football One with the objective to help develop the game in India and groom the talent of young starlets coming through the ranks in India.
According to Goal.com's sources Sporting president Godinho Lopes was in India last month looking for an investor for the club.
"We are keen to support the development of football in India. We along with our partners Football One, are looking at ways in which we can leverage the technical knowledge and coaching expertise that resides within the club to support Indian football. We will align our efforts with that of AIFF and the vision of its President, to raise the level of the game here in India. We are here for the long term and our signing on Sunil Chhetri is the first of our initiatives," Godinho Lopes, Sporting Clube de Portugal president, said,
The Sporting Clube President and Chhetri are expected to address the media on Thursday.
This is going to be the Indian striker's second stint abroad, after a short stay with MLS side Sporting Kansas City, for whom he signed on 24 March 2010, but failed to make an appearance in the league, let alone score a goal while he had over the past few years undergone trials at clubs like Glasgow Rangers and Coventry City, while a move to then England based Championship side Queen's Park Rangers was scuppered due to work permit issues.