Happy Birthday Bhaichung Bhutia: No one can deny the pedestal to Baichung Bhutia when it comes to modern footballing greats in India. Sikkimese Sniper who turns 43 today was once the most looked-up prodigy in India.
Bhutia made his mark in the early days when he, aged just 19 lead the JCT Mills to the National Football League(NFL). He was the Top scorer of the League at the time and thus also became the Player of the Year for 1996.
Star to a Legend
Despite his heroics with JCT, it was the 1997 Federation Cup Semi-Final which affirmed that Sikemese Star was made for greatness when he scored that hattrick for East Bengal against Mohun Bagan.
That Hattrick is now part of Indian folklore as Bhutia became the first person to score a hattrick in the Kolkata Derby that too in front of 1,31,000 people at the Salt Lake Stadium. Baichung has in fact won many accolades and has scored many goals in his career but nothing will ever come close to those three goals that decimated Bagans’ defense in that hot and humid afternoon.
Baichung Bhutia has played for JCT Mills, Manchester-based side Bury FC, Malaysia’s Perak FA, East Bengal, and Mohan Bagan. In fact, he is one of those few players who are equally respected on both sides of Kolkata, which tells a lot about Bhutia as a personality and a person which he still is.
In 97 games for the team in Red and Gold Bhutia found the net 52 times and for their arch-rivals in Green and Maroon he netted 25 goals in 56 games.
Bhutia- A National Icon
The legend of Baichung Bhutia was never limited to club football. He helped India in reaching new heights with his grit and skills. Bhaichung Bhutia was the first Indian footballer to reach 100 caps when he represented the nation during the 2009 Nehru Cup. This record was later broken by now Indian Team Captain Sunil Chettri.
Bhutia also broke his predecessor IM Vijayan’s record of 39 goals when he bagged 42 goals for men in blue before his last match in 2011. He accomplished this figure in a total of 107 matches with an average of 0.39. Notably, this record has also been improved by Chettri who now has 72 goals.
Bhutia also possesses the best winning percentage among Indian greats at 45.79%, with victory in 49 matches.
He won the SAFF Championship 3 times, Nehru Cup 2 times, and a maiden AFC Challenge Cup while representing India. The striker then again won Player of The Year for the second time in his career in 2008.
Recently the stadium in Namchi, Sikkim has set to be named after Baichung Bhutia which explains how much the legend of Sikemese Sniper still prevails in heart of the people.