New Delhi: The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is set to recommend Sunil Chhetri for the country's fourth highest civilian award -- the Padma Shri -- a huge recognition for the nation's all-time leading goal-scorer should he get the honour.
Chhetri leads the India chart with 56 goals from 97 appearances and is one of the forwards with better strike rates in world football. The AIFF said that it was considering recommending a top player for the honour without confirming the name, but sources close to the apex body said it was Chhetri, as the federation recognises the Indian captain's contribution to the sport.
"If there is one name in Indian football who deserves to be recommended for such a huge honour, it is undoubtedly Sunil Chhetri. The AIFF recognises Sunil's contribution and has already looking at the criteria," a well-placed source said.
When contacted, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das also said that the federation has recommended Jeje Lalpekhlua and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu's names for the Arjuna Awards. Asked if Chhetri is being considered by the AIFF for the Padma Shri, Das did not confirm, but, in what seemed a giveaway, lavished rich praise on the 33-year-old star striker.
Padma awards are announced on the eve of Republic Day, January 26, every year. Last June, Chhetri became the fourth highest goal-scorer among active international players when he struck his 54th against the Kyrgyzstan, surpassing England's Wayne Rooney.
He was then behind USA's Clint Dempsey, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi of Argentina. The Bengaluru FC skipper, who began his career at Mohun Bagan in 2002 as a 17-year-old, is India's all-time highest goal-scorer in international fixtures. Besides, he is also the all-time highest goal-scorer in the domestic league among Indians.
Since then, he has played for 10 clubs across five states and three countries. In 2010, he travelled to US, to play for Major League Soccer outfit Sporting Kansas City, but did not play a single match.
In October 2012, he made his debut for Portuguese second-division outfit Sporting CP B, though he would make just two more appearances for them.