Five Best Indian Football Players of All Time

India are considered a sleeping giant in football and this is a fact that has been recognized by many top figures in football as well as former FIFA presidents. From not being able to play at the world cup because they allegedly did want to adhere to proper footwear protocols to having players scattered all across Europe albeit in lower divisions and ISL becoming a hotbed for Indian talents. 

Our U17 World Cup core graduating to the senior side, Indian football is in a really healthy position right now and some greats spread across decades ago managed to shine through despite all the odds. They cannot be thanked enough to keep the flame of Indian Football alive  and here we are acknowledging some of them.

5. Sailendra Nath Manna

Sailendra Nath Manna
Credit - Wikipedia

Sailendra Nath Manna, or just Sailen Manna, is one of the most outstanding leaders the Indian football team has ever produced. The celebrated defender and captain was a crucial  figure in the Indian team which participated in the 1948 Olympics. Under his captaincy, India clinched the gold medal in the 1951 Asian Games. The Indian football team also swept away top spots for the Quadrangular Tournament four times in a row from 1952 to 1955.

Legendary tales of his captaincy even managed to spread worldwide. Sailen Manna was selected to be on the list of the 10 best captains of the world by the English Football Association. He became the only Asian footballer to have been chosen for such an honour.

4. Subrata Pal

Subrata Pal
Subrata Pal (Credit - AIFF Official)

Subrata Pal announced his retirement  and decided to hang up his gloves on December 8, 2023, at the age of 36. Pal is one of the most identifiable football players to have ever stood between the sticks for team India. The keeper first gained fame among Indian football fans when he featured in the U-23 pre-Olympic qualifiers and led the team to qualify for the group stages. The team India star has won the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup and the 2015 SAFF Championship with India. Subrata Pal was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 2016.

3. PK Banerjee

PK Banerjee
PK Banerjee (Credit - AIFF Official)

Pradip Kumar Banerjee was one of the best goal scorers to ever play for India and Eastern Railways. He made his debut in the 1955 Dhaka Quadrangular series. He was a key part of the 1962 Asian Games-winning Indian team. The Indian star striker scored against the likes of Japan, Thailand, and South Korea. He also captained India at the 1960 Summer Olympics, where he scored an equalizer against France in a 1-1 draw. FIFA named PK Banerjee the ‘Indian footballer of the 20th century’. Banerjee is the only Asian to have received the ‘FIFA centennial order of merit’.

2. Bhaichung Bhutia

Bhaichung Bhutia
Bhaichung Bhutia (Credit -

Bhaichung Bhutia is credited with starting the football movement in India. He was the sole torchbearer of Indian football in the late 90s and 2000s. Bhutia’s performances captivated the Indian crowd and kept the hopes of  multiple generations of Indian football fans alive, making them increasingly interested in the sport. IM Vijayan called Bhutia ‘god’s gift to Indian football’.

Bhutia has won the AFC Challenge Cup, SAFF Championship, Nehru Cup, and the gold medal in the South Asian games. For his contributions to Indian football, he was awarded the Arjuna Award in 1998 and the Padma Shri in 2008. The forward was also inducted into the Asian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. and was given a testimonial match against Bayern. Nowadays, he runs one of the most successful Youth Academies in India preparing the stars of tomorrow under his own name all across India.

1. Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri
Sunil Chhetri (Credit -

Sunil Chhetri is probably the most famous Indian footballer ever and is the face of modern Indian football period. Football has recently grown a lot in India in part thanks to the immense commercial potential seen by Europe and the club partnerships between ISL clubs and the west as well as the u17 world cup that had put India on the map. Due to this, the popularity of team Indian has also increased vastly. Chhetri is both India’s most-capped player and all-time top goal scorer. The striker has scored 94 goals for his nation in 150 appearances spanning across 3 decades.

Chhetri began his career at Mohun Bagan. However, it was after his move to Punjab-based JCT that the striker began getting noticed. His performances caught the eye of the Major League Soccer (MLS) team, Kansas City Wizards. During his time in the United States, Chhetri made an appearance against Manchester United in a friendly game. His time with Kansas City is one of the two times the forward experienced playing abroad. His second stint abroad came with Sporting CP B team.

The 39-year-old’s significant achievements, however, came in India itself. He has won the I-League twice, the Indian Super League, the Federation Cup, the Super Cup, and the Durand Cup with Bengaluru. Chhetri has also won the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup as well as the 2011, 2015, 2021, and 2023 SAFF Championship with India. The striker has been named the AIFF Player of the Year on seven different occasions. Chhetri was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2011, the Padma Shri in 2019, and the Khel Ratna Award in 2021. He was also the first recipient of the Football Ratna Award. This is why Sunil Chhetri has become an adjective is Mr Football. And for years to come, Mr Football will remain synonymous with football excellence like Messi and Ronaldo.

Cover Credits -

Leave a Reply