“My back to the goal, physically fighting off defenders, trying to bang my goals in, every week I have to do the business for this club. That’s the life of a striker.”
Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy wasn’t too off the line – neither when he was in front of the goal nor when he said this line about strikers. They need the physicality, the sharpness and the ability to conclude moves. It’s a natural ability, and thus, it requires an innate flair.
The Indian football team is a sleeping giant according to FIFA, and time and again it has had strikers who has taken the made the world stand up and take notice. Here, we take a look at the top five Indian strikers till date:
Pradip Kumar Banerjee
Regarded as one of the greatest Indian footballers ever, PK Banerjee or PK, as he was fondly called, was born in West Bengal but started his career for the Bihar football team as a right winger. He moved to Bengal at the age of 18 and after signing for Eastern Railway, caught the eye of the national selectors.
PK played a key role in India’s winning the 1962 Asian Championships and was also the goal-scorer in the historic 1-1 draw against France at the 1960 Rome Olympics. He scored 65 goals for the national team in 84 games, but FIFA’s official records reduce the number significantly. He breathed his last recently, on March 20. His legacy still lives in the stream of Indian football.
If fighting against all odds had a face, it would be Shabbir Ali. After starting his career with the Tata Football Academy, Ali was courted by East Bengal in the 1970s. He had all attributes of a top, top striker. He could shoot, had a strong header on him and was also a poacher. On his day, he was easily the most influential team in any line-up.
In the 1976 Merdeka tournament, he scored a hat-trick in just 35 minutes against Indonesia, still a national record. He scored 23 goals for the country, and with Mohammedan Sporting, went on to win 9 back-to-back national tournaments in 1983-84, including successive Federation Cups.
Well built, powerful and positionally-sharp, IM Vijayan was one of the first top modern strikers in India. He scored an international goal in just 12 seconds, a record that still stands for India. After starting his career with Kerala Police, he jumped ships to Mohun Bagan and kept enhancing his reputation with goals galore.
Alongside Bhaichung Bhutia, Vijayan formed one of the most dangerous partnerships in Asian football. He called time on his career in 2004 and by then, he had scored 40 goals in 79 appearances, roughly standing at a goal every two games.
Arguably the best modern striker India has seen, the Sikkimese Sniper was a natural leader with an instinct to win. He won the ‘Best Player’ award at the 1992 Subroto Cup, and was subsequently snapped by East Bengal in 1993 for his telling performances. Bhutia had a key role to play in India’s Nehru Cup win in 2007.
He retired in 2011 after the dismal 2011 AFC Asian Cup, but the AIFF arranged a special testimonial match for the legend. India played Bayern Munich on 10th February in 2012, and it was the striker’s last game for the national team. He scored 40 goals in over 100 international matches, becoming the first Indian to complete a century with the national team.
This man carries immense pressure and expectations on his shoulders every time he walks out to the pitch with the national crest on his chest. Chhetri has been carrying the Indian team for nearly a decade now. Aged 35, he’s still one of the fittest and hardworking footballers in India, and leads by example.
He has scored 72 goals in 115 international games, and is only behind Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo in active goal-scorers for their country currently. At Kansas City Wizards, Chhetri also had the pleasure of playing against Manchester United, the only Indian footballer to do that.
India is still looking for his replacement, but it looks unlikely given the state of strikers on the radar at the moment.
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