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Oct 2009, Vol: 2, Issue: 3
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Interview - Bhaichung Bhutia

- by Pinaki Datta & Joy Chakraborty

"I want to see India qualify for the World Cup."

Indian football (soccer) captain Bhaichung Bhutia speaks to Pinaki Datta about his journey from a small village in Sikkim to the hot seat of Indian football and about his dreams for the future.

 Urhalpool: A small boy, Bhaichung Bhutia, from a small village, Tinketam, in a small state, Sikkim. How and when did he start dreaming big?
Bhaichung: I donít think you can start dreaming big, can you?  When you love a particular thing, you just love it!! I enjoyed football and loved the game.  When you play as a kid, I donít think you really want to become a Maradona -- you just play and work hard. As you grow, you want to play at the highest level and represent your country. It wasnít that I planned or thought that I would become the captain of the Indian team. I loved the game and worked hard, and it has just flown the way it is.
Urhalpool: When you started playing football passionately, did you ever think that youíd play in Calcutta or in mainstream Indian football?  Because thatís the kind of dream a boy from Sikkim must have to make it big.
Bhaichung: I didnít really think as much. When we were studying at boarding school in Sikkim, I didnít know much about Indian football. I did not know the Indian football clubs: the East Bengals and the Mohun Bagans. Nor did I know about the big players in India. I started playing and got my first scholarship from the Sports Authority of India (SAI). It was only in 1993, when East Bengal made an offer, that I started to take it seriously.

Urhalpool: We have been making progress in Indian football, at least in recent years. But while countries like Japan and China -- who have a similar sort of infrastructure, similar problems as ours  -- have made fast-paced progress, our progress has been really very slow; why?
Bhaichung: Well, actually China and Japan are ahead of us in terms of infrastructure. System and infrastructure play big role. The kind of setup we have in Indian football is outdated. We lack exposure and, for players to become good coaches after retirement, we lack training. Our academies are not well equipped. Long term planning is required, and weíre not doing that.
Urhalpool: Youíve touched on a lot of points, but you havenít mentioned sports medicine or sports management.
Bhaichung: I would say that comes under sports infrastructure; once you have a good infrastructure everything follows!!  I agree that unlike the other advanced countries, we havenít been able to take sport medicine or sports management to the next level.
 UrhalpoolRaw talent wise, do you think we are at an adequate level?
Bhaichung:  Any sportsman has got to have an inborn talent. And I think in Indian football there are a lot of talented people. But sadly, talent alone will not make a successful footballer or a successful team.
Urhalpool: Nowadays, corporate backing is very important. Are we generating enough interest to get corporate backing?
Bhaichung: I thing we are doing okay there Ė not really bad!!  But if you donít have your own setup right, it becomes even more difficult to look for corporate backing. So weíve got to get our house in order.
Urhalpool: There is still the perception -- and to some extent itís the reality also -- that the elite and the educated segment of society are more interested in cricket. Why is football not the place where the young talent normally tends to go?
Bhaichung: Itís natural.  Parents will want their kid to take up a sport which ensures a good future, a name, fame, glamour and good quality of life.  I think itís important for us, people involved with the game, to work and make sure that the game improves in quality. It again boils down to development programs and infrastructure.  Unless you succeed at the international level, you donít have that kind of coverage, and you donít get any sponsors. Cricket has been doing that. So weíve got to look into what we can learn from cricket and incorporate it into our game.
Urhalpool:  But if you think about cricket, the current infrastructure or the corporate backing that we have today was not there twenty years back; it came in gradually. Though success was one part of it, do you think better administration played a key role in cricket?
Bhaichung:  No, I donít think itís administrative. Even if you brought in some of the current cricket administrators and asked them to change Indian football, it would not work. Ultimately itís the success, the team and the results that you get.
Urhalpool: You were the first Indian player to play in the UK. You have been an icon, an inspiration to the younger generation, and now the likes of Sunil Chhetri and Steven Dias are also venturing outside the country for opportunities. Considering this trend, do you think you should have extended your Bury FC stint a bit longer?
Bhaichung: A lot of times, things donít exactly go according to what you want. I was very lucky to have gone through those three years and to have seen world football very closely. I am happy, I have no regrets!  Obviously I would have loved to have gotten things going right with no injuries at all, but thatís part of life!  I would want players to go and start playing outside the country. India needs people who will not just go out but also learn about the system, understand world football and then come back and help Indian football in every way they can.
Urhalpool:  Talking about the I-League, we have pretty much seen that in all the teams good foreigners are making the difference. But still there are very few who are really good, very few of the Barretos, and the Betos. Whatís the reason?
Bhaichung:  I think the quality of I-League has gotten really good in terms of quality of the players; the competition had become better than it used to be ten years back. And I think thatís the reason you see more good quality foreign players coming to India now.  The I-League has made players more competitive by bringing in good quality foreigners and also developing a lot of Indian footballers.
Urhalpool: Some people think that football in India or soccer in India tends to attach excessive dependency on foreigners and that is harming the Indian boys. What do you say?
Bhaichung: See, there are always pluses and minuses on that issue; you can keep debating and not end up anywhere. I feel that the quality brought in by the foreigners should be there. The minus point is the places for Indian players have been taken. But at the same time Indian players have to fight for their places; nothing should come easy for anybody until they fight and prove that they are good enough Ė- the same holds true in football.  My place is very secure because Iíve got no competition Ė- that is not a good thing.
Urhalpool: A lot of countries have foreign converts who take up the nationality in order to play for the national team. We donít see that happening in Indian football -- any thoughts?
Bhaichung: I donít think that will happen. I would rather think that if the government is so keen on seeing Indian football doing well, they need to work and invest a lot of money at the grass-roots level, not by giving citizenship to Brazilians and Nigerians.  I would rather suggest that they invest more time in the coaches. Our coaches donít get enough exposure.  I think, realistically, football in India is nowhere, and the federation and the government should help with that.
Urhalpool:  We talked about foreigners in terms of footballers. A lot of foreign coaches, in the last couple of years, have been coaching for different clubs in India. We have the national coach who is from Great Britain. Whatís your take on that?
Bhaichung: A lot of foreign coaches are coming in, and a lot of them are good too. But some of them are going to be bad as well; I am not saying that all the foreign coaches who come to India are good coaches, and, similarily, I am not saying that all Indian coaches are bad. The sad thing is that a lot of the Indian coaches donít get that much needed exposure and advanced training. World football is really advanced, and we need people who can take the game to a higher level.
Urhalpool:    Any personal favorites?
Bhaichung: I am very happy with our national coach, Bob Houghton. I think he is a wonderful coach.  Iíve had so many coaches, but I think one coach I feel very honored and lucky to be trained by would be Bob Houghton. The amount Iíve learned from him is amazing.
Urhalpool:  You formed an association called the Football Players Association of India (FPAI) in 2006 with a certain set of goals. How many of them have been accomplished?
Bhaichung:  It just three years old and thereís a lot work to do. But we are very happy to have formed this association. Itís basically for the welfare of the players, and at the same time, we want to work on developing the game. I think it will take time to grow.
Urhalpool: Are you getting enough support from the authorities?
Bhaichung: I think we have been very lucky so far.  Obviously itís a new association, a new concept in India. It takes time to reach out and educate people, and the first thing is to educate the players about what FPAI is all about.
Urhalpool: Any personal thoughts or dreams as a player which are still unfulfilled?
Bhaichung: Nothing at all.  Those things will always come up; you are never satisfied. If I look back, I feel I am very lucky. And at the same time, looking at other players, I feel could have achieved more; I think life is about not being content and about trying to achieve more, not being too greedy.
Urhalpool: Ten years down the road where do you see Baichung Bhutia and why?
Bhaichung:  I wish I could tell you -- I canít. When I started playing football and signed for East Bengal, I could not have told you that Iíd become the captain of the Indian team -- I had not thought of myself that way.  The same goes for me right now -- I donít know where Iíll be ten years down the line. Iíd be happy to be involved with the game, but that does not mean itís the only thing I want to do. There are other options. Letís see what happens.  I might be completely out of the game in ten years.  But Iíd love to be involved with helping the game develop and grow.
Urhalpool:  You have always been very proud of playing for India. Any unfulfilled dreams that you still want to achieve?
 Bhaichung:  I want to see India qualify for the World Cup Ė- thatís one dream Iíve had my whole career. That would still be my one dream, but probably not as a player. But I would hope for that to happen during my lifetime.
Urhalpool: What do you think about this kind of project Ė Urhalpool Ė and what we are trying to do through it?
Bhaichung: I think itís a great project -- reaching out to the community in different forms.  Itís a great effort for the community and people get to know whatís happening with their culture, literature; this will definitely benefit a lot of Bengalis.
Urhalpool:   Any message you want to convey to our readers as a captain of the Indian football team?
Bhaichung: Nothing specifically. I think people should come and support football. Football runs in each and every Bengaliís blood; I think itís our duty -- especially the Bengalisí duty -Ė to support it and see that the clubs do well and see that Indian football does well. For Bengalis, football and fish are the two biggest things. People should support the game and take the Indian football team to the World Cup.
Urhalpool: Thank you for your time and all the best wishes for your future endeavors.