Bhaichung Bhutia has been there and seen it all. The Sikkimese — whose silky skills with the ball earned him many nicknames such as, ‘Whiz Kid, Crisis Man, and Man with the Golden Boot’ — made his international debut in the 1995 edition of the Nehru Gold Cup.
And, later turned out to be the golden boy for JCT in the inaugural season of the National Football League (1995-96). And, as they say, the rest is history.
Excerpts from an interview with Bhutia:
What do you think of the performance at Asiad?
We wanted to move into the next round…we were unlucky.
Coach Bob Houghton has always emphasised on the need for taller and stronger players, what do you have to say?
Bob is right; we are poor on the physical front. But I'm sure we can find players who are taller. If you see the last five matches, all of the goals we have conceded were through aerial balls. We played well against Yemen, Japan and Saudi Arabia but every time the same things happened — crosses come in and we concede.
Is this your last Asian Games?
I just wanted to play another Asian Games and that's the reason why I am here. But this is going to be my last. On the whole, I am glad I am back for India. I'm enjoying working under Bob and he is a great coach, one of the best coaches that I have had. Sometimes, I feel he may have come a little late in my career but he is doing a great job.
What are India's chances of qualifying for the World Cup?
We can't talk and think we will make it to the World Cup. We must start doing something. We have to have better infrastructure. We should have good coaches, not in hundreds but in thousands at the grass-root level.
Infrastructure is very important. On the whole, sport in India is pretty pathetic, but that's the way our government wants it to be. It is not given priority. We have to be a more sporting nation. We talk about being an economic powerhouse but nobody is investing in sport.
What are your views on the Asian Games format (Under-23 team with three seniors) and where must India change to be a force to be reckoned with?
In the Asian Games, three senior players can play in the squad. It is a very good thing as juniors get valuable exposure. Other nations have grown faster than India as far as football is concerned. We must change a lot of things if we have to improve on the sporting front.
It's important to have good coaches but there is a limit to what coaches can do. We have to have a good grass-root level plan for young players and only then can we look at playing well in the future. Money is also an important factor.
What should Indian players do to improve their skills?
I feel more Indians should go abroad and play like me. That will help Indian football in general and the players in particular. The game demands foreign stints. But what hurts is that after you come back, Indians don't take you seriously.