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Legendary Indian footballer no more

The former Indian captain Sailen Manna, 87, passed away on Monday morning in Kolkata. HT reports.

sports Updated: Feb 28, 2012 00:41 IST
HT Correspondent

The number of people able to recall the dead-ball skills, defensive ability or leadership qualities of Olympian Sailen Manna, who died early on Monday aged 87, would be far less than those who remember him as an unofficial Mohun Bagan ambassador and a man who never said never to any event he thought would benefit football. No village would be too distant or inaccessible, no school too far. All he would ask for was a pick-up and drop.

With an avuncular air he would narrate stories of Indian football including his missed penalty in a 1-2 loss against France in the 1948 Olympics, Elizabeth inquiring how he could generate such power even though he played barefoot before she became queen, the journey he led to India's first Asian Games gold in 1951.

And there would be many, many anecdotes about the club he was synonymous with as player and administrator — Mohun Bagan. A club from which it is said he took R13 on the first day and played for 19 years after famous defender Gostho Pal spotted him.

One legendary story is one related by legendary coach PK Banerjee, the only surviving goalscorer for India in an Asian Games, always mentions. Playing for Bihar, Banerjee was being sledged by a Bengal player so much so that at half-time, he went to Manna and complained. Manna, Banerjee said, ticked off the Bengal player. "The game was aggressive even in our time but Manna would never swear or sledge. He was a gentleman football in the Stanley Matthews mould," Banerjee said.

Before he died in December 2008, Shiu Mewalal, who scored the matchwinner against Iran in the 1951 Asian Games final, said Manna was a leader who also knew how to be a friend.

Perhaps that is why even though he captained India and Mohun Bagan in the 60s, Manna could seamlessly connect with generations of schoolboys younger than his grandchildren. Even after Fifa chose Banerjee as India's footballer of the century, the All India Football Federation adjudged Manna Player of the Millennium in 2001.

Manna is survived by wife Abha and daughter Nilanjana.