BAICHUNG BHUTIA is keeping busy. Although the legendary striker has been living under the radar for the last few months, he is back in the limelight again, this time undertaking a football coaching course. And if his assertions at the Calcutta Sports Journalists' Club in a 'Meet the Press' event was anything to go by, he was even ready to put on his playing boots for one last time.
Baichung, nicknamed 'The Mountain Scorpion' by his fans, is in Kolkata to undertake the D-License course for coaching. He has already has had some coaching experience at United Sikkim and did a management course back when he was playing for Bury FC in England. When asked if he is taking the first steps towards a professional coaching career, Baichung shrugged it off,
“Who knows what will happen in the future? But me doing this does not mean I just want to coach the national team. I'm doing it because it felt necessary. Also, I want to teach football to my son. Maybe I'll complete the C-License course after this and leave it at that for now. I'm really pressed for time.”
Asked about what he thought of the effects ISL has had on Indian football, Baichung was all optimism.
“ISL has brought back a lot of excitement to Indian football. It has attracted kids to the game and made parents realise there can be a future playing this game. More kids playing the game means more options to choose from.”
Baichung's prime interest, however, lies with the I-League and the spectacular conclusion of its recent season.
“Mohun Bagan winning the I-League is the best thing that has happened to Indian football in recent times,” said he. “Those that were saying the I-League has lost its appeal have been proven wrong. The massive crowd that came down to Kolkata airport to welcome the champions; it can't happen anywhere else. The excitement would be the same if East Bengal won the I-League. This is great for Bengal football and Indian football as well.”
When asked if ISL and I-League should be merged, Baichung replied,
“I doubt the merging is going to happen. If it does, the ISL will lose its charm. Personally, it should not be done."
The ex Indian skipper was full of praise for his successor to the captain's armband, Sunil Chhetri. The latter recently scored his 50th goal in Indian colours in the lost against Guam, extending his tally as the highest goal scorer in the history of the Blue Tigers. “I am very happy and proud for Sunil,” Baichung said. “Most of his goals have come from my passes.”
He was, however, worried about the disconcerting display put on by the Indian team against Guam.
“Guam are not as easy an opponent as they seemed,” Baichung mused. “It goes without saying that the team that beats Turkmenistan must be competent enough.”
Baichung was bitterly aware of the many false starts Indian football has experienced when pursuing a revival from its sliding status in world football.
“Actually, we make many great plans. But they are not properly executed. As a result we fail to make real progress. To remedy this, the state associations must come forward. There has to be more emphasis on age-bracket football and grooming new players.”
As for Baichung himself; he was supposed to play a farewell match for in East Bengal colours before hanging up his boots for good. But it did not happen this season. Asked why, he said,
“I was working as a consultant for Atletico de Kolkata. That's why it couldn't be done. But I am ready to play one last game in Red and Gold… if not in a competitive tournament, then a friendly perhaps.”
This is a great news for football fans around the country, who will get to see the most popular Indian footballer in the last two decades weave his magic for the club that made him into the player he was, one last time.