Kolkata/New Delhi: Football legends, led by Chuni Goswami and P K Banerjee, paid tribute to just-retired former captain Bhaichung Bhutia, hailing him as one of the best players India has ever produced.
Bhaichung on Wednesday announced his international retirement here after failing to recover from a recurrent calf muscle injury, drawing curtains on an illustrious 16-year-long career.
Hailing Bhaichung as the last player from India who could come close to top Asian standard, Banerjee termed the retirement of the Sikkimese as the end of an era.
"It`s the end of an era -- the Bhaichung Bhutia era. After we left, another group led by the likes of Mohammad Habib, Subhas Bhowmick, Shyam Thapa, Sudip Chatterjee came. Bhutia came from my last batch of coaching and he was amazing from day one," Benerjee said.
"He was very disciplined as a kid, full of dedication, fit and agile and he developed into a very good footballer with sharp back and side volleys. He was too good a player till injury started haunting him. It`s really sad that Bhutia will not play football anymore.”
"Apart from the trophy cabinet, his biggest contribution would be to bring a sense of confidence among the fellow players. He led from the front and by example. He was a very fine leader. I can say he was the last player to come out from India who could come close to the Asian top standard," said the former Indian team captain and coach.
Another former captain Chuni Goswami termed Bhaichung as one of the brightest football stars India has ever produced.
"Qualifying for the Asian Cup was a big feather in his (Bhaichung`s) cap. He was very competitive, dedicated and we all enjoyed watching him. He was one of the brightest stars to come out of Indian," Goswami said.
"He was not playing for quite a sometime now lying low with injury. It`s nice that he has called it quits which he could have done earlier. He was a very fine footballer to come out of India," Goswami said.
"It`s hard to say about his biggest contribution to Indian football as he did not play in the Asian Games or full Asian Cup tournament," he said.
Former defender Manoranjan Bhattacharya said Bhaichung was an inspirational leader and led by example.
"He was an idol for Indian football and led the country, club and state by example. Many youngsters follow him. I wish him all the best. Hope he continue to serve Indian football in some capacity," he said.
For India midfielder Renedy Singh, Bhaichung was once-in- a-generational player along with another legend I M Vijayan.
"Bhaichung and Vijayan are once-a-generational-player to me. They come once in a generation. I did not want him to retire now, I wanted him to play for a few more years. But the injuries in the last few months have been too much to bear for him," said Renedy, Bhutia`s best friend in the Indian team.
"It will be really tough to fill into the boots of Bhutia. There are lots of talents among the current crop of players and I hope somebody would take his place," said Renedy.
Bhaichung`s former coach at the JCT and Indian team, Sukhwinder described the retirement of the Sikkimese as a big loss to the country.
"Bhutia`s retirement is no doubt a big loss to Indian football. He has played for the country for a long time and his achievements were immense," he said.
Asked to rate among Bhaichung, I M Vijayan and Jo Paul Ancheri, Sukhwinder said, "It would be unfair to say that Bhutia is the best. I would say all three of them - Vijayan, Ancheri and Bhutia were of equal talent and it`s difficult to separate three of them.
"Bhutia has played longer, that is why his achievements had been more than Ancheri and Vijayan. It is sad that Bhutia has retired though there are lots of talented players coming up," said Sukhwinder.
Former India and East Bengal midfielder Gautam Sarkar hoped that Bhaichung will one day join All India Football Federation in some capacity.
"Bhaichung represented India for so long -- close to two decades. We will definitely miss him. I first saw him when he was 15 years old when I was the Indian coach. He was the youngest member of the side but his dedication impressed me. He was extremely focussed and played with a lot of tenacity. Every player has to leave some day. His days have come. I hope he serves AIFF in some capacity in near future," he said.