India captain Sunil Chhetri has signed for Sporting Lisbon and will play with the B team for two seasons, the Portuguese football club confirmed on Thursday.
The signing is part of an agreement with Indian football authorities to develop the game.
“With our experience in scouting and the development of high level players we are ready through a set of local partnerships to find the best solutions to accelerate the development of football in India,” Sporting said in a statement.
The statement described the 27-year-old striker as “an idol in his country”, adding: “He will symbolise the dreams of all the young people who have ambition to play in Europe.”
Chhetri expressed his delight at the move.
“From 163rd (India’s FIFA ranking) to playing in the 5th ranked nation in the world, it’s one opportunity I will never forget in my life,” Chhetri was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
“I will have to do a lot of hard work. I will leave no stone unturned, so that I don’t regret later in my life. When I am 40, I don’t want to feel that I could have done better.
“I am excited. I want to see where do I stand…want to grab it with both hands. I can’t let go this opportunity.
“Now, I feel like a 14-year-old.
All India Football Federation president Praful Patel told reporters: “It is truly a very remarkable occasion for Indian football. It’s an important milestone. He will be playing shoulder to shoulder with some of the top players of the world. This is a beginning of a new era in Indian football.”
The Portuguese sports daily Record said the agreement was part of the club’s commercial strategy.
“The B team’s matches will be broadcast in India … and it is possible that the main team’s games will also be broadcast, in India and China,” the newspaper reported.
Sporting already have partnerships with teams in Saudi Arabia, Angola, China and the United States.