Sports legends are not born in a day. Legacies do not survive always. But then legacies are not created by those who get awed by others.
When Bhaichung Bhutia started playing football, he hardly had a role model around him except his elder brother who was a footballer at the local level. Even His parents were not keen on his interest in sports. Had it not been the encouragement from his uncle, Karma Bhutia, Bhutia might never have been a footballer at all. But once he got to roll the boll, this Tinkitam born footballer started creating a legacy of his own. A legacy that got a flip with a football scholarship from Sports Authority of India (SAI) to attend the Tashi Namgyal Academy in Gangtok. Come 1992 and for his performance in the Subroto Cup Bhutia was adjudged “Best Player” of the tournament. Bhutia was never to look back again.
For the past 18 years, since he left home to join the East Bengal Club at the age of sixteen, Bhutia has been at the forefront of Indian football transformation. The icon played well on ground and off ground to bring football to a place where die hard cricket fans would cheer for India and Indian football.
Bhutia also became the first Indian footballer to play in a European professional in 1999 when he signed a three-year contract Bury FC in England. His trip was cut short due to injury.
Bhutia has been the Maradona and Pele of Indian football; a perfect combination of skill, class and consistency. But despite his limited success internationally, for Indian football he has been even more than that. He became an icon without India ever being one of the top football playing countries; without any multi-million dollar sponsorship.
Probably that’s why the likes of Bayern Munich will be playing against an Indian team in what would be Bhutia’s last international performance. Bhutia retired from international football in August 2011. The ‘King’ of Indian football would be donning the Indian colours for one last time on January 10 2012 in the one off exhibition match against the German giants at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the venue where he started his career way back in early 90s.
This, however, certainly won’t be the last from Bhutia in real sense. He started United Sikkim, a football club in 2008. The striker co-owns and might continue to play for United Sikkim FC in Indian domestic football. He also started Bhaichung Bhutia Football School in 2010 to train aspiring footballers. The club has branches in Delhi and Mumbai.
What else, despite his retirement he is still as busy as ever. When Baichung Bhutia was told that he looked as fit as ever in the India jersey produced by Nike that had a logo specially made for his testimonial game against Bayern Munich, he quipped, “I hope you can’t see my paunch, do you?” Training in the morning, photo shoot with his sponsors in the afternoon and entertaining journalists in hordes, the former India captain, is not one who gets tired easily, wrote the TOI. Bhutia who dropped his school exams and to go for the U-16 national camp and left his home at 17 to join East Bengal will continue to inspire Indian football in the years to come. It certainly is just the beginning of Bhutia’s legacy.