Such a controversial start to your season could have been avoided, couldn't it?
I can’t understand why East Bengal reacted the way they did but I had waited far too long for my dues. The club didn't keep their promises and for the first time in 12 years of knowing East Bengal, my patience was really tested. Let it be known that because of my injuries, I even offered a 20 per cent pay cut subject to certain promises the club kept but they failed even on that count. I’ve got most of the money and it's now up to the officials to decide whether they want to settle my dues fully or not.
Clubs allege that players too are to blame for contracts not being foolproof because often they don't submit details like residential address and PAN card numbers. You think they have a point?
My contracts have always been different from what others sign but, yes, footballers need to organise themselves better, look after themselves and co-ordinate better with their clubs.
Can't a players’s union help in sort these out?
It's a good idea but extremely difficult to implement here. I haven't seen too many players who can work together and get this going. The mindset here is different. Starting with a Kolkata chapter would have been great though, really, I don't see it happening.
How long do you think you'd need to get match-fit?
Your take on Subhas Bhowmick saying Bhutia isn’t a certainty in the East Bengal XI.
Even if he didn't say that, I wouldn't have taken my place for granted. Never have. The need to prove myself is bigger than whatever anyone says or does not say. The desire to excel comes from within and will even after I give up football.
Into your 13th season as a professional, how long do you think you'll continue?
Till I enjoy playing and I'm not being politically correct here. I still get the same kick after scoring a goal like I did 12 or even 15 years ago. I am not that old (he is 29 now) but at the right age to take advantage of my experience. I'm capable of performing even better in the next three years. My best is yet to come.
When I was an U-16, IM Vijayan was like God to me, and if he's still around so can I for some time. I’ll know exactly when to stop. Something will tell me just like it did all those years ago when I decided to join a national U-16 camp instead of taking my ICSE. But on the subject of retirement, I am thinking of quitting the national team after 2006. Playing for India is a matter of honour and I would have done that for 11 years by then.
How has Indian football benefited from nine National Leagues?
The standard has remained where it was when we began. It's not for me to criticise decision-makers but I think its time we took a fresh look at things.
Like reducing the number of foreigners for instance, from three to two. And not having foreigners at all in the second division NFL. By allowing foreigners in NFL II, you ensure that teams from Manipur, Mizoram and Sikkim, to name some states, never make it to the top tier. The NFL needs to be an all-India affair and for that to happen maybe, we can divide the competition into zones, get them to play home-and-away and get top two teams from the zone to play a final round. I'm telling you, it won't be easy for Mohun Bagan or East Bengal to go and beat teams in Aizawl or Imphal.
Also, what is the point in complaining about the lack of strikers when you allow clubs to play imported forwards? Why can't we look at Plan B if Plan A hasn't worked in 10 years? Okay, if foreigners were banned from the NFL, maybe the competition would have lost some of its lustre in the short-term but our standard could have improved.
But by talking about banning foreigners instead of focusing on youth development, aren't we missing the point?
When clubs struggle to pay first-team players, how much do you think they'll be able to spare for youth development?
You've been relatively injury-free except last year. Does that give this season any added significance?
No, but what I felt bad about was being unavailable for East Bengal in crucial games of the National League.
One Indian player who's really impressed you in recent times?
Mahesh Gawli. He should really try his luck outside India. East Bengal missed him after he left.