He is the lone face of Indian sports in a high-profile gathering of international stars at the Laureus World Sports Awards and football skipper Bhaichung Bhutia on Monday said it is the ultimate honour to be in a crowd that features the likes of the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton, Boris Becker and Patrick Vieira.
The veteran striker, in fact, rubbed shoulders with former French stars Vieira and Marseille Desailly in a one-hour charity football match in which the Indian sent down one of the 23 goals scored to raise a whopping 500,000 euros for the Laureus Sports Foundation and the Emirates Sports Foundation.
"It feels great to be a part of such an event although I have done such charity appearances even earlier but it is always special. It is great that I scored but in such an event where the aim is to raise funds for a good cause, it does not really matter whether you score or not...just being a part of it is a big thing," said Bhutia.
Bhutia turned out for a team which had the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton as manager and later said the Englishman inquired about how Indian football was shaping up after the Asian Cup.
"I had an interaction with Sir Bobby and he was inquiring about Indian football. It is because we played in the Asian Cup last month and that made an impression. He took notice of Indian football because we were seen in an event which is second only to the World Cup in terms of competition. So, it is important to be seen in action at such an event," said Bhutia.
The captain reiterated that Indian football took a giant leap by appearing at the Asian Cup.
"We didn't win any match but we can still be proud of our performance. We have to capitalise on the positives from what we managed at the Asian Cup," he said.
He played just about 15 minutes during the Asian Cup because of nagging injuries and Bhutia feels he could have made a difference to the end result had he been completely fit.
"Yes, I could have made a difference. When completely fit, you can always make a difference to the overall picture," he said.
"I was after all the Most Valuable Player at the Nehru Cup. But that cannot take away from the team. They can be proud of their performance. We played rather well against a top side like Australia," he said.
Bhutia once again stated that the standard of domestic football in India needs to improve for the team to do better at the international level.
"You see the standard of running around in the I-League. The pace and stamina is markedly different. We have to improve at the domestic level to make a mark internationally," he said.
Among the celebrities who were watching from the stands when Bhutia played in the match were world number one tennis player Caroline Wozniacki and German legend Boris Becker. The match also had Italy's World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro making an appearance at the half time.
The former defender could not play because of injury while Portugese star Luis Figo also failed to turn up even though his name was given in the list of players for the match on Sunday.