Baichung Bhutia(born 15 December 1976) is a retired Indian footballer of Sikkimese-Bhutia descent who played as a striker. Bhutia is considered to be the torchbearer of Indian football in the international arena.
He went on to play for several school and local clubs in his home state of Sikkim, including the Gangtok-based Boys Club, which was managed by Karma. His performance at the 1992 Subroto Cup, where he won the “Best Player” award, brought him to the notice of the football establishment. Former India goalkeeper Bhaskar Ganguly spotted his talent and helped him make the transition to Calcutta football.
He impressed one and all with his abilities there and soon made it into the SAI centre in Gangtok. He marked his initial foray into the big time with a spectacular back volley in the semi-finals of the Durand Cup in November 1993, which took the team into finals.
The Indian striker later admitted that this first stint with East Bengal helped him mature and improve as a footballer.
Bhaichung got transferred from East Bengal to the ambitious JCT in 1995. With them he won the first ever National Football League (now known as the I-League) in 1996-97, again winning the Golden Boot as he scored 14 goals in 20 appearances. With his star now firmly on the rise, the Tinkitam Express, as he is fondly referred to by his fans, returned to his first club East Bengal.
This phase of his career was littered with several instances of personal glory for Bhutia, as he established himself as an Indian star. By 1999, the undisputed face of Indian football, Bhutia created history when he signed for Bury FC, a second division club in England. He became the second-ever Indian player to ply his trade in Europe, the first being Mohammed Salim who had a brief stint with Celtic FC in Scotland.
Bhutia signed for the club in Greater Manchester after unsuccessful trials with clubs like Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa. He scored his first goal for the English side against Chesterfield in April 2000 in just his second start for Bury and although he was largely a squad member in his time with the Gigg Lane outfit, he learnt a lot from his stint there, particularly impressed by their professionalism and general stress given on tactics.
With India he continued to scale great heights, as he starred in the LG Cup triumph over Vietnam in 2002, scoring two goals in the finals and winning “the man of the match” award.
On the personal front, in another milestone in his flourishing career, he was awarded the “Asian Player Of The Month Award” in May 1999 as well as in October 2002. He also received the Sikkim state award in 1999.
The Sikkimese Sniper has been the face of Indian football for most of the last two decades and his decision to retire brings to an end the International career of one of modern India’s legendary footballer, who stood out among his peers in what has largely been a mediocre era for Indian football on the whole.
Blog by- Shivangi Jaiswal
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