We got an opportunity to talk to the soccer great and he shared his moments with us. Read the whole interview
Born in December 15, 1976, Bhaichung Bhutia is the icon of Indian Football. He is the first Indian to play professional football in England, led the Indian national team to title triumph at the LG Cup in Vietnam, Nehru Cup and AFC Challenge Cup in India. Bhaichung has taken Indian football to new heights. He started his education in St. Xaviers School, Pakyong, East Sikkim and won eventually Scholarship SAI to attend the Tashi Namgyal Academy in Gangtok. He went on to play for several school and local clubs in his home state of Sikkim. A stellar performance at the 1992 Subroto Cup brought him to the notice of the football establishment. In 1993, at the age of 16, he left school to join East Bengal Club. In 1995, he moved to JCT Mills, Phagwara, which went on to win the India National Football League that year. Bhutia was the top scorer in the league and was chosen to play in the Nehru Cup. He was named "1996 Indian Player of the Year" and has won numerous other awards since then.
In 1999, Bhaichung became the first Indian to play professional football in England when he joined the English second division side FC Bury. In 2002, Bhaichung led the national football team to a rare title triumph at the LG Cup in Vietnam. He joined Mohun Bagan in 2002, played for 1 year and went back to East Bengal and also signed up to play for Perak FC, the Malaysian championship club, from August to October 2003. He also signed an endorsement deal with Adidas in November 2003. Bhaichung married his long time girlfriend Madhuri Tipnis on December 27, 2004, in his native village of Tinkitam in South Sikkim. The Sikkimese government has built a stadium, Bhaichung stadium in Namchi, in his honor. In 2006, he joined Mohun Bagan AC and has remained with the National Club of India since then. He has been captain of Mohun Bagan for two consecutive seasons. Bhaichung also played in the Goal 4 Africa match held in the Allianz Arena, Munich on July 12, 2008 for the Edu team led by Clarence Seedorf and scored twice. He also led India to win AFC Challenge Cup and qualify for AFC cup final round to be held in 2011. He was also selected as the most valuable player of the tournament. He has been conferred with Padma Shri by Government of India on the eve of 59th Republic Day in recognition for his distinguished football career.
In 2008-09, under his captainship Mohun Bagan won three tournaments and finished runners up in I league. In I league, Mariners created a new record by winning 10 consecutive matches.
We got an opportunity to talk to the soccer great and he shared his moments with us.
Congrats Bhaichung for a great ending to this season by winning Super Cup.
Bhaichung: Thanks a lot. Yes I am very happy that Mohun Bagan won three trophies this year.
Is this your first interview for any website?
Bhaichung: I think this is my first one, in last many years I have not given any, before that I don’t remember exactly. In fact, I give very less interviews.
How do you rate this year’s performance of Mohun Bagan?
Bhaichung: We had a great season this year. It feels very, very nice winning three tournaments. It would have been very good if we would have won I league but I think winning 3 tournaments itself is a good achievement and finishing 2nd in I league. We missed out on I league mainly because we had a poor start, the way we started it did not really help us though we came back strongly and set up a new record in I league by winning 10 consecutive matches, so I think overall it was a great season for Mohun Bagan.
Is this your best season of your career? Which year do you rate was your most successful one?
Bhaichung: It is definitely one of my best seasons. The year when we won ASEAN cup in East Bengal was also good, we won National league also that year but those times every team used to play more tournaments, like Durand, Rovers etc. East Bengal also played many tournaments and won 2. However, this year we played 4 tournaments, we won 3 and finished runners in 1, this is really a very good achievement.
How do you rate Karim as a coach?
Bhaichung: I think he has done a great job, being his first year in Mohun Bagan, with the kind of pressure in Kolkata, he has done really, really well with the team. First year getting three trophies, doing well in I league, result speaks for him. He is a very good coach.
You have played under Bob Houghton, how do you compare them?
Bhaichung: See, I do not like to compare. Definitely their style is different. Other than the coaching part and making strategies, Karim has got his own strengths, his excellent man management, his skill of communication with the players, handling media. Actually managing a club is very different from that of a country. I think it is much more difficult to be coach of a club compared to coach of country. When you manage a club, there is lot of tension, lot of management skill is required also like, I said, managing media, managing fans, officials etc.
Houghton is also doing a brilliant job for India. He has made many plans which I think will help Indian football in future. As a coach, he is hugely experienced and I really enjoy playing under him. I think Indian football is in right hands.
Can you comment a little on their style.
Bhaichung: Actually every coach has got their own style. With Karim, there is some flexibility, sometimes 1 striker, sometimes 2 and he also changes strategy sometimes during the match according to match situation whereas Houghton always prefers 2 strikers irrespective of who the opponent is, this is his style of coaching. If you talk about me, I am comfortable with all formation. In fact, I have played with 1 striker and even with 3 strikers also.
In 2002, you had some problem in Mohun Bagan?
Bhaichung: Yes, 2002 was my first year in Mohun Bagan. That year when my initial injury happened, I spoke to the management and they asked me to play. Actually I cannot blame them only, I am also to be blamed because I should have been strict and said, "No I am not going to play." I think the biggest mistake what I did was I also pushed myself to play with the injury and everybody around also said that I can play. The blame has to be shared by everyone but maximum blame has to be taken by me because as a professional player, I should have stuck to my decision. Also the mistake was because there was a bit of pressure on me, coming from East Bengal to Mohun Bagan which is bound to happen and Mohun Bagan fans rightly wanted good performance from me and people expected me to do even more better in Mohun Bagan than what I did in East Bengal, so I made the mistake and pushed myself to play with 50% fitness carrying that injury and this further aggravated the problem. I think that is the biggest mistake of my career, if I would have taken rest for few matches and healed the injury, I could have performed better surely.
There is always a comparison that goes amongst fans between Bhaichung in Mohun Bagan and Bhaichung in East Bengal.
Bhaichung: I think that comparison is always going to be there but I do not look back in the past, I take every match as a new one. Right now, I am a Mohun Bagan player and will try to give my best for Mohun Bagan.
When I was in East Bengal, I was young but in Mohun Bagan, I have become more experienced, more mature as a player. At the end of the day, it all depends on the kind of team we have. The team which we had in East Bengal when we won the ASEAN cup was great. Also the team that we had in JCT was also great, we had Vijayan, Ancheri. In Mohun Bagan, this year, we had a great team and we won 3 tournaments. The only thing may be we lacked is a little maturity in midfield, after Marcos came, it became lot stable.
We have seen both you and Barreto complement each other so nicely. Tell us something about it.
Bhaichung: Barreto is a great player and I think Barreto and me, for the last two seasons have developed a great combination in field and that resulted in a lot of goals. I really enjoy playing with him. I feel that we need somebody in midfield as well who can score goals, if we get 1-2 such kind of players, the team’s performance obviously will improve. In EPL, you can see Gerard, Lampard scoring lot of goals from midfield.
Who do you rate as your best striking partner?
Bhaichung: Again, we can never compare. I have always enjoyed playing with all my strikers. Of course, Barreto is very special. I have good combination with Sunil Chetri in Indian team. I enjoyed playing with Junior in East Bengal, Okoro that year played more as an attacking medio.
Which stopper and goalkeeper gave you most trouble?
Bhaichung: If I assess performance over a number of years, I think the best stopper in India is Mahesh Gawli. For goalkeeper, Sangram had a great season this year but overall I would say Sandeep is best and Subrata comes second. Subrata still has got time to mature to be a better goalkeeper. Sandeep is very consistent, has matured over the years and I think he is one of the best goalkeepers in India.
Do you find any difference of atmosphere of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal?
Bhaichung: For us, it all depends on the kind of players we have in dressing room. The supporters and fans will always be there and there will always be pressure from them, which is very, very genuine from their part. But players we need to unite as a team and support each other and that is when a team performs well. I think I have been lucky with that. Right now, in Mohun Bagan, we have united as a team and there is very good understanding between the players and our coach has also very good man management skills whereas at present in East Bengal the amount of problem they have within the players in dressing room is quite a lot. For a club to perform better, it all depends on the set of players you have, how we handle the pressure, how we unite as a team. Right now, I am extremely happy in Mohun Bagan. The atmosphere in this club is appropriate for playing good football, thanks to the officials.
Do you think positive or negative reporting affects performance of players?
Bhaichung: Lot of Bengali players tend to get affected by what is written. Our duty is to play and perform well. There will be criticism as well as applause. They tend to read a lot of newspaper and gets affected a lot. Actually it all depends on the individual, how much he can handle the pressure.
Many outside players do not get affected whether good performance or bad performance because they do not know what is being written. But for Bengali players it is different, they read papers, see channels, interact with their locality people and get lots of opinions which, if the player is mentally not strong, would surely affect his performance. I have seen a lot of Bengali players done really well and then lost out in between. Among Bengali sportsperson, see Saurav Ganguly who has really stayed and performed for so many years. I think, he ignored all the remarks made on him by media or people and completely focused on his job throughout his career.
Do you feel a lot of Bengali footballers are coming up?
Bhaichung: Talent is definitely there but I think grooming has to be done. Still there are lots of Bengali players playing for the National team and for various clubs in India. See, you can’t compare from 70s or 80s, at that time there was not much football or money in football in other states, so Bengal football used to dominate. Now the scenario has changed but still in Kolkata there is lot of talent coming up.
Over the years you have performed so well in National team, where do you see Indian football go from here?
Bhaichung: I do not see anything great in the next 2-3 years. I hope it improves. But we need to have change in infrastructure, more stress should be given to nurturing from grass root level and also we need to work in terms of youth development. I do not think that is being done now. So it can improve and go to a certain height but for it to improve by leaps and bounds, lots of changes have to be made in the system. However, I think coach Bob Houghton is doing a very good job.
Do you have any plans in future regarding youth development?
Bhaichung: I have a plan for football academy but for that I need minimal 35 acres of land. It is difficult for me to buy the land, because if my spent my money just to buy the land, then from where I will get money to build it and develop the academy. That is my minimum criteria and if I get that, then obviously I can guarantee you that I will have one of the best academies in the country.
Regarding the goal 2011, what is your thought? Huge amount of money is being planned to be spent on a set of 25 players, is it worth? Or should the money be spent to develop a good football academy to develop supply line?
Bhaichung: See, unless and until national team do well, no money is going to come for youth development. If national team can perform well, interest for football will develop more throughout the country among people by media coverage that will encourage sponsors and corporate to invest money in youth development and also to sponsor various clubs and ultimately it will be the clubs who will benefit in the long run.
You can see, Emirates is sponsoring Arsenal because the Premiership is so well marketed throughout the world. So who is benefiting, it is not the FA who is organizing premiership is benefiting, it is clubs like Arsenal who is benefiting. Similarly, if big sponsors come in Indian football, ultimately it will be the clubs that will benefit as the sponsors will not sponsor AIFF but they will give money to clubs like Mohun Bagan, but for that to happen, National team will have to produce some very good performances. Today cricket is popular mainly due to its national team’s performance.
Definitely there are some exceptions, if national team of few countries like Spain, Italy and England does not do well, their premier league is not much affected but for majority of the countries who play football, in order to generate that interest in football within the mass, good performance of national team is a must.
I think 2011 has to be well prepared. I am not saying that we are going to go and win the Asia Cup but at least we require a good performance. You can see the hype that was created during and after the Nehru cup that we won. This is required for Indian football to progress.
Regarding keeping a set of players for Indian team, if it helps the Indian football team, yes why not. Korea applied the same formula and they improved drastically after the World Cup, since Korean national team did so well in World Cup. They had all the players contracted 2-3 years for national team, Gus Hiddink was their coach at that time. In USA also they did that and had a great result when they played in World Cup, also Mexico used the same formula.
See, we are lying in bottom in terms of world football ranking. So we need something to experiment. If we experiment and do not succeed, we are still in the same boat where we are, it is not going to go down. But if we experiment and get something new, it is going to benefit us.
At the same time, big tournaments like I league and Federation Cup also have to be marketed and organized so well that it benefits AIFF, it benefits clubs and also Indian football in general.
Share with us your experience of Goal 4 Africa. You scored 2 goals in that match.
Bhaichung: Every player has got a dream to play with the best player in the world and get that opportunity and so I was very happy to play with the likes of Ballack, Seedorf, and also under the coaching of Zico. Added to this, I was also playing for a wonderful cause that had the name of Nelson Mandela. This also gave me a big boost.
I had another offer to play a similar kind of match which had Luis Figo in it. I could not go because the dates were clashing with matches of Mohun Bagan, so I did not accept the offer.
Right now, you are also part of a very popular dance show, Jhalak Dekhla Ja. There has been a little controversy regarding your participation in the show. What do you have to say on this?
Bhaichung: I feel happy that I did Jhalak. I don’t think there has been any problem, as I did not miss any match of Mohun Bagan because of the show. Whenever there was a clash, I missed the rehearsal and I never missed any match. I am not playing football or I am not doing a show to make everybody happy and in life there will be people who are going to be happy with what I do and also people who are not going to be happy.
At the same time, Jhalak is also more about people voting for you. So if I am still there, that means, there are people who are loving me and supporting me, otherwise I would have been out because initially 3-4 dance, I never had high scores, but I am still there because of fans voting for me as at the end of the day, it is all how much people will support you and vote you. I am really thankful to all the people who have voted for me.
At the same time also, if you look into the matches where I played, once I did Jhalak, the first match was against Chirag, where I scored 2 goals and another goal was disallowed. After that I scored 2 genuine goals against Dempo and Mahindra which were also disallowed.
There will be controversies always. When I first got an ad and sponsors came in and I was doing the ad shoot, there were criticisms from many people like "His focus is not on football now etc. etc." There will always be criticism.
After being 17 years in football, I know I can handle things. My ultimate duty is to give my best in the field and I would have some good games and I would definitely have some bad matches. I am responsible to my coach, my club, my officials, if they know what I am doing, I do not need to explain everything to everyone.
Do you feel media pressure is too much in Kolkata?
Bhaichung: I think the media here is too passionate also and also too competitive. There is too many local media here and with so much competition, everybody wants to survive, everybody wants different story. So, I guess, whatever they get, whether true, not rue, they just spice up and get the story out. There are few media which is like this, generally maximum of the media is more or less good.
Football is a game which will have many opinions, he should have passed that, he should have crossed this, coach should have played that player, he could have taken a shot etc. etc. It is bound to happen with a human nature. When I watch Premiership, I also give opinions. I don’t agree to a lot of decisions that Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger takes. That doesn’t mean they should listen to all opinions made by people and do something else. Whatever they think is good for their team, they will do it.
Few media people are there who always find negatives. I think players should not get bothered much. We should not care about people who write good or bad, we should just focus on our game. There are a set of people who know what is right, what is wrong and we need to know what is right for you and just go with that. If we try to impress all sorts of category of people, then we will get lost out. We need to just focus on our match, there will be good and bad times, but you don’t need to really get affected. I know there are a lot of good Bengali and English newspapers, and I interact with many reporters but I don’t want to be coming out to clarify everytime when untrue things are written about me by few press people. I don’t really bother to do that, let them do their job, and I will focus on my game and do my job.
You had the experience of playing in Bury FC. Would you like to share your experience?
Bhaichung: I have not spoken much about the days in Bury. I stayed there for 3 years. I joined them mid season. When I joined, it was end of October and it was really cold and I went there without 5 months of football because our season got over in May. From June to September, I just went for trial and after I got into the team, I was waiting for the permit. So I have not played for 5 months and when you join a team in England, fitness is the main criteria and without much practice for a number of months and also playing in so much cold, I faced a lot of problem in the first year to cope with the team who were in mid season. But slowly I got used to it and the manager and the coach was very happy and helped me out a lot. Then when I was just settling down and was slowly getting chance in matches for 15-20 minutes, the manager and the coach left and again it became a little difficult for me. Then the next season started off well and I was slowly becoming regular in first XI, I played against Manchester United in that season because I was in first team and in preseason for third year, I scored a lot of goals. But second match of the third season was where I had major injury. I was out for completely six months after that. So it did not go according to the plan but I think the kind of knowledge I got being there, the kind of experience I got, obviously has helped me a lot. I was very lucky to have been there for 3 years, experienced that and saw football very closely on and off the field. That is the reason why I have been able to start Players Association here. Players Association in England is as big as the Federation there and they do lot of good work.
Why do you think that other players who were talented in India could not take the next step and try their luck in England like you?
Bhaichung: You know, it is very tough. There is tough competition. Players from all over the world are coming to play in England. I know there are a lot of players who wants to go outside India to play. Given the opportunity, they would want to go. It is only that I think they have not been able to get right kind of people to help them go out. They are very motivated and willing to go abroad and play.
Right now you are an ideal of Indian football, who was your ideal?
Bhaichung: It was Diego Maradona. I have always grown up watching Maradona. I really liked his performance in 1986.
So Argentina is your favorite team?
Bhaichung: No, it was only in 1986. (laughing) Actually every year it keeps changing, last World Cup I did like France. I also liked Germany a lot in the last World Cup.
Which is your best tournament win in your career?
Bhaichung: AFC Challenge cup win last year is my best win so far because qualifying for Asia Cup for me as a player is massive. That is the 2nd biggest tournament a football player in India can play after World Cup.
Which is the best goal of your career?
Bhaichung: It is very difficult to tell. For Mohun Bagan, I scored a goal against Mohammedan with my left foot from an acute angle that was very special. I scored a similar goal for India in AFC Challenge Cup.
Which one has been the remarkable match?
Bhaichung: AFC Challenge Cup final last year.
In AFC Challenge Cup, we were leading 3-0 in half time against Tajikistan who are higher in rank than us. How do you describe that, a miracle or hard work?
Bhaichung: Sometimes, you know, everything goes smoothly. AFC Challenge Cup final was one of those matches, the first chance that we got we scored, the second goal was converted out of a half chance, sometimes things really go according to beyond what you plan as well. Two years back in Super Cup, Mohun Bagan beat Dempo 4-0, that day also similar thing happened to us. I remember one match for East Bengal against Al Jawra where we won 6-2, everything was also going well that day, whatever shot we took, everything went inside the net. The second match they beat East Bengal 2-0 in Siliguri.
Any unfulfilled dream so far?
Bhaichung: Winning AFC Cup in 2011 and also winning I league for Mohun Bagan.
Who is your favorite coach?
Bhaichung: I have liked all the coaches under whom I have played. I think coaches should be judged by their performance and what results they give.
We have read many times in press that Bhaichung Bhutia prefers foreign coaches?
Bhaichung: This is a totally wrong fact. For me, classification is good coach and bad coach and I do not differentiate as Indian coach and foreign coach. I have been lucky that I have worked really well with foreign coaches but that does not mean all foreign coaches with whom I worked are good. Same goes with Indian coaches. There have been some Indian coaches I have really worked well with. I want good coaches who are going to take either Mohun Bagan or Indian team to different levels, he can be Indian or foreign.
After 17 years of playing football, how do you still motivate yourself?
Bhaichung: I see every match as a new match and every match you want to go and win and you want to do well. I take everything as a challenge. I try and give my best in whatever I do. That is how I look into things in life.
After you miss an easy chance, what do you tell yourself?
Bhaichung: For a minute or two, definitely I feel bad about it. Good thing is that we play lot of matches, we keep playing, so we need to look forward and missing chances is part of the life like defeat. After defeat or failure, what I do is I don’t break down and think that my life is finished since I have lost this match. Defeat will definitely affect you but it should not also affect your coming matches. Similarly, after a win also, I enjoy the moment, come, relax at home and next match day is again a new one where there is no chance to be complacent as then performance will go down.
You seemed to be mentally so strong.
Bhaichung: I have never done yoga or something like that. Actually, I have always been in boarding school from when I was a kid. I have taken major decisions when I was 16 years old, I left school, did not give board exam and came to Kolkata to play football. So I have become mentally strong over the years. I started living on my own when I came to Kolkata and it is not easy life here in Kolkata and especially those days were not very easy at all. The clubs were not so much organized as it is now in terms of sponsors, facilities etc. Initially I had a very hard time but slowly I settled down.
Do you feel extra pressure in derby matches?
Bhaichung: No, there is no extra pressure. Pressure is definitely there in many important matches, not only the Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal match. It all depends on how you handle them. If you take pressure to a limit, it is very good. If you take pressure beyond that limit, then you start becoming nervous and start shaking which is again bad. Pressure is one thing that will always keep you on toe, it makes you work hard, it makes you focused but not extra pressure.
How is your relationship with coplayers?
Bhaichung: Since I have been playing for 17 players, I try to help my colleagues out, educate them in various matters, also try to help the game on the whole which I try to do as captain of Mohun Bagan for 2 successive years. I am really honored by this decision taken by club authorities.
Who is your favorite actor in Bollywood?
Bhaichung: I really like Amir Khan and looks wise, my favorite is Deepika Padukone.
Your favorite Hindi Movie?
Bhaichung: Jo Jeeta Wohi Siqandar.
Your favorite EPL team?
By the way, what is there written in your hand?
Bhaichung: It is my wife’s name, Madhuri, in Chinese.
Your favorite hangout in Kolkata?
Bhaichung: I do not have any favorite as such. It all depends on friends.
Your future plans after football?
Bhaichung: Not yet decided. I would love to be part of football. I definitely would love to give back something to football in my own way. I owe a lot to this game which has given me everything.
Any message for Mohun Bagan fans?
Bhaichung: I think they need to keep supporting the way they have been supporting or even more to the team. They need to trust the team and the players and the management. When we have good matches, everybody celebrates. When we have bad matches, I think they need to realize the players and officials would also be the first person to feel bad about it, because the career of the players lie in the matches, so they need to be with us in good as well as bad times, which Mohun Bagan supporters have been doing so much. In I league, when we did not perform in the first five matches, the supporters were with us and cheered us a lot.
Thanks Bhaichung for sparing us a time from your busy schedule for this interview and best of luck for future.
Bhaichung: Thanks a lot.
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