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My worst season: Bhutia
April 30, 2003 17:21 IST
Indian football icon Baichung Bhutia says he is willing to take a pay-cut next season following a disastrous season for him.
"This has been my worst season since I started almost a decade ago. In terms of appearances and performance, my last season at Bury FC (2001-02) was worse. I hardly played because of a knee injury," Bhutia said, adding, "however, expectations are very different in India. And even though I scored 19 goals in 29 matches, this had been a terrible year."
Bhutia hurt his calf muscle during an Asian Club Championship league match in the Maldives and little went right for him since then.
"We at Mohun Bagan were leading 3-0 in the first-half when I first felt a twinge of pain in my left leg. I wanted to be taken off but was told to stay on. It could have been different had I been substituted. Besides, we had already assured ourselves a berth in the next round," he said.
Slamming the unprofessional attitude of Kolkata clubs, without actually naming them, he said: "No one understood the gravity of my problem. Indian football lacks the kind of medical support necessary for a player. I sought out a sports medicine expert in Kolkata and even got him to the club. But his advice was ignored.
"From then I had to play every time I was even 80 per cent fit. Everyone from the club officials to the coach thinks you are fit when you start jogging. The pressure is too big to ignore."
Commenting on Mohun Bagan's worst-ever finish in the National Football League, he said, "We never got the team combination right. Too many players were tried out. For example, a promising youngster from Shillong debuted against East Bengal in an NFL tie without any preparation. He failed, wasn't used ever after and is now really playing well in Goa," Bhutia said.
"A lot of people from Sikkim wanted me to play for Bagan and so I joined them, ignoring an offer from East Bengal. I knew what I was letting myself into. But, frankly, I did not think it would be this bad," Bhutia added, releasing his pent-up frustration.
About his future plans, he said he is optimistic about playing in the Singapore league.
"Let's see what happens with the Singapore deal first. If it doesn't work out I will check out with Indian clubs. At the same time I am trying to recover my dues from Bagan; I had a fruitful meeting with the club's general secretary on Monday last," Bhutia said, confessing that he is also willing to take a pay-cut next season.
Asked whether the NFL has changed the quality of Indian football, he said, "Individual skills have improved, proof of which is the number of good players in the senior national team. But the NFL has not caught the nation's imagination because it is marketed very poorly. The standard of match supervision needs to be improved and same with the brand of the ball, which should be lighter to see better goals."
He also felt that India failed to capitalise on the LG Cup victory and the good showing in the Asian Games.
"We have a good pool of players. But myself being sidelined was very frustrating. I am sure I could have made a difference," he said.
He branded Indian national coach Stephen Constantine as the "perfect man for Indian football".
"He knows how to handle the players and the team expresses itself better in the 3-5-2 formation. Twenty days under him and the players feel much better," he said.