New Delhi: Sporting Lisbon on Thursday recruited Sunil Chetri for their reserve side. Though the decision is considered to be a positive sign for Indian football, it immediately raised questions about the India captain’s participation in the Nehru Cup in August.
According to Sporting Lisbon’s vice-president Aureliano Neves, who officially announced the club’s association with Chetri for two-seasons, the Indian striker would be required to join the club in the next couple of weeks.
“For the moment, we have signed Chetri for our reserve side but he might graduate to the first team in the near future,” the Sporting Lisbon official said here. “It all depends on the coaches at the club. We would like Chetri to be with us in the next couple of weeks.”
Neves also presented Chetri with the club jersey in presence of All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel.
Under the circumstances, it doesn’t look possible for Chetri to attend the national camp for the Nehru Cup beginning in the capital on August 1. For the record, the five-team tournament starts on August 27.
Though Chetri said he was not sure whether he could play in the Nehru Cup, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said he was aware that Chetri might have to skip the tournament.
“I have already discussed the matter with our chief coach Wim Koevermans,” said Das. “Since he is our main striker, we would always like to have Chetri in the team. But we would not press for him if he remains unavailable due to his commitments with the Portuguese club,” Das added.
Chetri’s record with the national team was impressive last season. He won the “Man of the Match” awards in all five matches in the SAFF Cup in December.
However, his form did not reach the desired level during his stint with Mohun Bagan in the domestic circuit. So much so, that not many Indian clubs showed interest in recruiting Chetri for the season.
Chetri, on his part, said he was excited to be associated with a team like Sporting Lisbon, considered one of the legendary clubs in European football. “I don’t know whether I would play for the main team or the reserve side… All I know is that I have to prove myself. It is a lifetime opportunity and I am not going to lose it,” said the 28-year-old striker from Delhi.
In an official statement, the club said: “Sporting Lisbon have officially opened their doors to the Indian market. With the aim of breaking ground in one of Fifa’s most highly regarded markets, where more than 20 million players apply their trade, Sporting have put pen to paper with the Indian national team captain, Sunil Chetri, who will now join up with the club’s reserve side.”