NEW DELH 20 October 2009(IANS): It was a memorable and nostalgic evening for Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia as he was felicitated by All India Football Federation (AIFF) for having played 100 matches for the country.
Bhutia went down the memory lane as he recalled his starting days and fondly remembered his old friends and teammates.
“It has been a long and wonderful journey,” said Bhutia, who received Rs.5 lakh, a plaque and a gold coin from AIFF president Praful Patel on Tuesday.
“I dedicate this to all the players with whom I have played for the past 16 years. They have supported me during difficult times,” Bhutia said.
“I started with East Bengal at the age of 16 from a salary of Rs 4,000, and how things have changed now. I thank everyone who helped me reach so far in life.”
Bhutia reserved special thanks for coach Bob Houghton.
“Without him, I would not have played 100 matches, because I wanted to quit and he convinced me to stay on,” said the 31-year-old.
“In the last three to four years, Indian football has grown and has been doing well but a lot needs to be done. A lot more players will have to play 100 matches and that will only happen when we play more international matches. That’s the only way to improve our football ranking.”
“Players play a very important role in development of the sport. I have seen lot of my friends and teammtes leaving football and going for a job and they are happy. But if you want to develop Indian football, then players will have to play a key role,” said the Sikkim-born striker.
Bhutia said he would request state associations to encourage players to support the national team. “The focus should be on the national team.”
Patel, who also awarded goalkeeper Subrata Paul as ‘Footballer of the Year’, praised the duo.
“He (Bhutia) is a great footballer that the country has ever seen. One can’t thank and laud his efforts. Footballers like Bhaichung and Subrata when they play they not only play the game, but also help imspire youth to get attracted to the game,” Patel said.
“I empathise when Bhutia says that he has taken 14 years to play 100 matches. I would like to assure that India will play more international matches.”
Paul, who played a stellar role in India’s Nehru Cup victory, was also awarded Rs.5 lakh and a plaque.