New Delhi: Former India captain and the poster boy of Indian football for the major part of the last two decades, Baichung Bhutia announced his international retirement on Wednesday from the AIFF headquarters in New Delhi, bringing to an end an illustrious 16-year career.
Baichung, known as the `Sikkimese Sniper` for his shooting skills, announced his walk into international football sunset during a press conference at the AIFF headquarters.
"I had fantastic 16 years of international football. I enjoyed every moment to have represented the country, to have contributed to the game," Bhaichung said.
"Winning the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008, to qualify for the Asian Cup were the best moments of my career and I thought of retiring after playing in that tournament," he said.
"But I could play only 15 minutes in the Asian Cup and I thought it was not the right way to retire. I wanted to continue playing but the last 7-8 months have been frustrating due to lot of injuries. So I have decided to quit," he added.
He was dropped from the Indian squad selected for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers and the preparatory matches.
Bhaichung, however, will continue to play for his club United Sikkim FC which he founded.
"Lots of things in life do not happen the way we wish so I am quitting from international football but will continue playing for my club," he said.
"My commitment and contribution to Indian football will not diminish and I am ready to help the AIFF in whatever way they want me," he said.
He had been struggling with injury in the past one year and could only play for just 15 minutes in the Asian Cup in Qatar in January, the most prestigious event India has ever taken part in the last 27 years.
He was dropped from the Indian squad selected for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers and the preparatory matches, a move which he took into his strides but to complain for not showing the courtesy of at least informing him of that.
Bhaichung first came to the forefront at the 1992 Subroto Cup in New Delhi where he played for SAI Centre Gangtok. Next year, he was signed on by Kolkata giants East Bengal after his showings in the Subroto Cup and for the National Under-16 team in the Asian Under-16 Cup Qualifiers.
In 1995, Bhaichung, along with a host of other Indian top stars, signed up for JCT Mills of Phagwara and had two very successful seasons with them, among other things winning the first-ever National Football League title, being also the league`s top scorer.
In 1997, Bhaichung returned to East Bengal. By this time he had become one of India`s top players and in the 1998-99 season he was club captain, one of the youngest ever at 21.
After unsuccessful trials with English Premiership side Aston Villa and Championship clubs Fulham FC and West Bromwich Albion, Bhaichung finally signed for Division Two club Bury FC in 1999 to become the first Indian to play in Europe.
He was with Bury FC for three years till 2002.
Baichung had captained India for more than 10 years and has scored 43 international goals, more than any other footballer of the country. He is also the only Indian and one among few international players to have played more than 100 matches for his country.
Under him, India won the South Asian Football Federation Championships thrice, two Nehru Cup titles (in 2007 and 2009) and the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup which gave India the right to play in the Asian Cup this year for the first time after 1984.