Sailendra Nath Manna known popularly as Sailen Manna, was an Indian InternationalFootballer and is considered to be one of the best defenders India has ever produced. He has represented and captained India in different international competitions including Olympics and Asian Games. Manna started his playing career for Howrah Union, then a club in the 2nd Division Kolkata Football League, in 1940. After turning out for the club for a couple of seasons, he joined Mohun Bagan in 1942 and continued playing for the club for a period of 19 years, till his retirement in 1960. During this period, he was the Captain of Mohun Bagan from 1950 to 1955. His profile is known for his anticipation, covering and a strong free kick. Under Manna’s captaincy, India won the Gold Medal in the 1951 Asian Games and also won the Quandrangular Tournament for four consecutive years from 1952 to 1956. In 1953, the England Football Association rated him among the 10 best skippers of the world in its yearbook. For his impressive statistics, he was awarded the Padmashree in 1971 by the Government of India.
What it does not produce is saints; with one exception. When Sailen Manna died, 2,000 people followed his body to the Keoratala burning ghat in Kolkata, on the banks of the Hooghly river that flows out of the Ganges. They acknowledged they had lost rather more than a decent player.
Like most Bengali boys, he could not dream of affording boots. There was no money in football then; Mohun Bagan did not pay him, and he had to buy the maroon and green strip with his own hard-earned cash. But when pretty Princess Margaret asked him whether he wasn’t afraid to play that way, as he balanced a sandwich and a cup of tea at Buckingham Palace after the team’s glorious 1-2 Olympic loss to booted France, he would not mention poverty. He use to say “it was easier to keep the ball under control”.
Memories were his wealth, he told interviewers in his old age. He so loved the game that almost all of them were good; he needed no more. He still regretted missing the first penalty kick against France in the London Olympics, and turning down the chance of taking the second penalty because he was afraid of missing again. It still rankled that India had not gone to the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, with him as captain, because the Indian Football Federation had not realised its importance. He was sorry, too, that India was not even doing well in the Asian games. But he lived in hope of a return of national footballing confidence. No, he was not religious, he would say with a smile. But he kept a picture of Goddess Kali, barefoot conqueror of demons, tucked away in his pocket.
Blog by- Shivangi Jaiswal
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