India were trailing 4-0 to German club Bayern Munich, whose squad boasted names that would(in a matter of some years) go down as legends in the annals of football. But the humiliation at the hands of one of the finest European clubs didn’t really matter. People in the stands had come for something else all together-to have the privilege of a standing ovation to a man who has single-handedly dragged Indian football to where it is now.
Born in the small town of Tinkitam in Sikkim, Baichung Bhutia went on to become India’s first ‘poster boy’ in football. In a career spanning 16 years, he made history as the first Indian to play for an European club, led the national football team to title triumph at the LG Cup in Vietnam in 2002, Led East Bengal club to LG Asean Club Cup football championship victory in Jakarta in 2003, picked up the Indian player of the year twice, won the Arjuna and Padmashree awards and has helped the cause of Indian football in innumerable ways. In terms of class, let’s face it-Baichung was no Zidane or Ronaldinho. But it wasn’t just his exploits on the field that endeared him to the followers of football. It was his passion towards a largely neglected sport in a country obsessed with cricket and his endless perseverance to bring it to national scene that makes him the icon of Indian football. As former Indian national player and Baichung’s team-mate I.M. Vijayan rightly remarked, he is ‘God’s gift to Indian football’. To the handful of football fans in the country, he is no less than what Sachin Tendulkar is to cricket.
When he came off the field against Bayern for the last time in the Indian colours, in what was a befitting tribute to the great man, an era in Indian football came to an end. With Indian football gaining momentum like never before, it is quite possible we would see players better than him…..but there will always be only one Baichung Bhutia-the leader, the legend.
Contributed By : Anurag Mishra
Anurag Mishra is a Student From IISER Pune.