Big opportunity:Chhetri

Big opportunity:Chhetri

Indian handed Sporting Lisbon jersey, in clubs reserve team

Big opportunity:Chhetri

India football captain Sunil Chhetri has signed for the top European football side Sporting Clube de Portugal, also known as Sporting Lisbon. He will play for the club's reserve team.

The diminutive Chhetri was handed the jersey by the club's vice-president Aureliano Oliveira Neves here on Thursday.

"This is one opportunity that I would never forget.  I play football for a 165th ranked nation and I'm going to play in a country which is ranked fifth. The club too is one of the best in the world," said Chhetri, who turns 28 next month.

“I don't know how much can I achieve but I know that I have to do a lot of hard work. I know that I'm not there yet but I'm not going to lose this opportunity. When I will be a 40-year-old, I will be able to say that I gave whatever was humanely possible for me.”

Neves, said they were eager to work with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to develop the sport at the grassroots level in India.  “India has a large amount of young population and there is scope for development in football,” said Neves.

The club, that once had players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in its ranks, is likely to sign Chettri for two seasons.  Though the club’s website said he will play for the reserve side, Nerves said the final decision lay with the coaches. Chhetri is expected to leave for Lisbon the coming week as the Portuguese season begins on July 15.

 Welcoming the development, AIFF president Praful Patel said, “It's an important milestone for Indian football. Sunil will be playing with some of the top players of the world. This is a beginning of a new era in Indian football.”

Patel also invited Sporting Clube to work with one of the youth academies run by the AIFF. The Portuguese ambassador to India, Jorge Roza de Oliveira, too, promised his full support.

This is Chhetri's second stint with an overseas club. He was signed by Major League Soccer side Kansas City Wizard in March 2010 but could not make any league appearances. He also underwent trials for Coventry City and Glasgow Rangers last year.

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