India's football stars salute retiring Bhutia
Football legends, led by Chuni Goswami and P K Banerjee, paid rich tribute to just-retired former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia, hailing him as one of the best players the country produced.
Bhutia announced his international retirement in Delhi on Wednesday after failing to recover from a recurrent calf muscle injury, drawing curtains on an illustrious 16-year career.
Hailing the ace striker as the last player from India who could come close to top Asian standards, Banerjee termed the retirement of the Sikkimese as the end of an era.
Image: Bhaichung Bhutia
Photographs: Getty Images
'Last Indian to come close to Asian top standards'
"It's the end of an era -- the Bhaichung Bhutia era. After we left, another group led by the likes of Mohammad Habib, Subhas Bhowmick, Shyam Thapa, Sudip Chatterjee came. Bhutia came from my last batch of coaching and he was amazing from day one," Benerjee said.
"He was very disciplined as a kid, full of dedication, fit and agile and he developed into a very good footballer, with sharp back and side volleys. He was too good a player till injury started haunting him. It's really sad that Bhutia will not play football anymore.
"Apart from the trophy cabinet, his biggest contribution would be to bring a sense of confidence among the fellow-players. He led from the front and by example. He was a very fine leader. I can say he was the last player to come out from India who could come close to the Asian top standards," said the former India team captain and coach.
Image: Bhutia on the ball during a friendly between India and Bangladesh at Filbert Street, Leicester, in 2000
'One of the brightest stars to come out of India'
Another former captain Chuni Goswami called Bhutia one of the brightest football stars India has ever produced.
"Qualifying for the Asian Cup was a big feather in his (Bhaichung's) cap. He was very competitive, dedicated and we all enjoyed watching him. He was one of the brightest stars to come out of India," Goswami said.
"He was not playing for quite a sometime now lying low with injury. It's nice that he has called it quits which he could have done earlier. He was a very fine footballer to come out of India," Goswami said.
"It's hard to say about his biggest contribution to Indian football as he did not play in the Asian Games or full Asian Cup tournament," he said.
Image: Bhutia in FC Bury colours
'Led the country, club and state by example'
Former defender Manoranjan Bhattacharya said Bhutia was an inspirational leader and led by example.
"He was an idol for Indian football and led the country, club and state by example. Many youngsters follow him. I wish him all the best. Hope he continue to serve Indian football in some capacity," he said.
Bhutia's former East Bengal teammate Alvito D'Cunha said, "Bhaichung was a player of great stature. We have played together for many years and I have learnt a lot from him. I can never forget his guidance when I got a chance to represent the country. I don't see another player of this era getting there in near future."
Image: Bhaichung Bhutia
'Once-in-a-generation player '
Bhutia's former Mohun Bagan teammate Jose Ramirez Barreto said, "He was more than a face of Indian football I have known for quite sometime. He was really an inspirational footballer."
For India midfielder Renedy Singh, Bhutia is a once-in-a-generation player along with another legend, I M Vijayan.
"Bhaichung and Vijayan are once-in-a-generation players to me. They come once in a generation. I did not want him to retire now; I wanted him to play for a few more years. But the injuries in the last few months have been too much to bear for him," said Renedy, Bhutia's best friend in the Indian team.
"It will be really tough to fill into the boots of Bhutia. There are lots of talents among the current crop of players and I hope somebody would take his place," said Renedy.
Image: Bhutia is booked during his debut for Bury FC at the Nationwide Division Two match against Cardiff in 1999
'Retirement is a big loss to Indian football'
Bhaichung's former coach at JCT and Indian team, Sukhwinder Singh described the retirement of the Sikkimese as a big loss to the country.
"Bhutia's retirement is no doubt a big loss to Indian football. He has played for the country for a long time and his achievements were immense," he said.
Asked to rate among Bhutia, I M Vijayan and Jo Paul Ancheri, Sukhwinder said, "It would be unfair to say that Bhutia is the best. I would say all three of them -- Vijayan, Ancheri and Bhutia were of equal talent and it's difficult to separate three of them.
"Bhutia has played longer, that is why his achievements had been more than Ancheri and Vijayan. It is sad that Bhutia has retired though there are lots of talented players coming up," said Sukhwinder.
Image: Bhutia with Edgar Davids during the Laureus Football Challenge at the Emirates Palace on February 7, 2011
'Extremely focussed and played with a lot of tenacity'
Former India and East Bengal midfielder Gautam Sarkar hoped that Bhutia will one day join the All India Football Federation in some capacity.
"Bhaichung represented India for so long -- close to two decades. We will definitely miss him. I first saw him when he was 15 years old when I was the Indian coach. He was the youngest member of the side but his dedication impressed me.
"He was extremely focussed and played with a lot of tenacity. Every player has to leave some day. His days have come. I hope he serves AIFF in some capacity in near future," he said.
Image: Bhaichung Bhutia