On Sunday, Bhaichung Bhutia will reach a milestone no Indian has. Making the ONGC 14th Nehru Cup match against Kyrgyzstan special for India will be the fact that their skipper will play his 100th international.
It will be an important step in a journey that began in this tournament 14 years ago against Thailand. Bhutia scored his first goal against Uzbekistan, off a header, in his first start for India.
“It feels great to have achieved this,” Bhutia said on Saturday. “Maybe, I will play another 100 if we get to play 50 games in a year,” he said in a lighter vein.
What Bhutia said in jest, Gourmangi Singh was serious about. “I hope he play another 50. Such a great skipper he has been all these years,” the central defender said.
In coach Bob Houghton's words, Bhutia is like a 'diamond'. The national football team coach even went on to say that Bhutia is up there with the best.
“He has been great, a diamond for Indian football. I have been coaching for the past 30 years, have worked with players who have represented some top countries in the World Cup finals. Bhaichung, I think, is up there with the best,” Houghton said.
“He (Bhutia) has been a phenomenon,” the Briton said, adding, “despite being the most recognised face of Indian football, he doesn't throw his weight around; I haven't seen that anywhere in the world.”
Renedy Singh, who shares a great rapport with the India skipper and is India's longest-serving player after Bhutia, said: “He has been a great leader who motivates his teammates at all times.”