The man who typified courage under fire in the Asian Cup and almost every time he mans India’s goal is soft-spoken to a fault off it.
It is only when probed about Bob Houghton and Bhaichung Bhutia and their continuing as India coach and captain do you discern certain steel in his voice but even then Subrata Pal prefixes his comments with “I don’t want to demean anyone.”
“If Bob Houghton goes, Indian football will suffer a huge setback. Those criticising him are actually demeaning themselves. I am grateful to the AIFF (All Indian Football Federation) for spending so much to help us prepare for the Asian Cup but all those who think we should have won it or something should realise where exactly we stand against them (Australia, Bahrain and South Korea, India’s group opponents). And yes we scored three goals.
“He (Houghton) gave me a break (in the 2007 Nehru Cup) when my idol Sandip Nandy was flying high as India goalie. I still goosebumps talking about it. And in 2009, he insisted that I start in the Nehru Cup even though my club (then East Bengal) had benched me for most of the season. I am happy to have repaid the faith by saving three penalties in the tie-breaker in the final against Syria,” Pal told HT in an interview on Friday.
About Bhutia, Pal, 24, said: “He is the only identifiable Indian footballer and to maintain a level of consistency for 17 years is a dream for me. Every time he is around, we aim to win. Take him out as captain and Indian football will realise what it misses. He is a natural leader.”
After nearly four years of being the country’s top goalminder — one during which he helped win two Nehru Cups and an AFC Challenge Cup which gave India the right to play last month’s Asian Cup —Pal has all the trappings of a successful man down to designer phones but sounds remarkably grounded.
Blame the famous Bengali seer Ramkrishna Paramahansa and Swami Vivekananda, his biggest disciple, for it.
“There must at least 100 goalkeepers in this country of over 1 billion who are better than me. I got lucky,” Pal said.
Convinced that the only way to look is ahead, Pal needs to be goaded into talking about the Asian Cup experience where he was called Spiderman by South Koreans and praised by Australia coach Holger Osieck and their goalie Mark Schwarzer who’s played two World Cup finals and represents Fulham.
“They are good thoughts, yes, but thinking about them can make me feel haughty and that would be the start of my end. I am only thinking about how to get Pune FC to emulate their performance of last season (they finished third in their debut I-League),” said the strapping footballer who flew from Doha to help his club after the Asian Cup eschewing leave his India mates got.