Saturday, June 23, 2007

Baichung takes a shot at a different sport

23 June, 2007 : Baichung Bhutia does not remember the first time he kicked a ball but the poster boy of Indian football has definitely kicked his way to the top to become a household name in the region.A fan of the legendary Diego Maradona, the 5’8 feet 31 year-old from Tinkitam in Sikkim, dubbed the Maradona of India, has taken Indian football to new heights becoming the first Indian footballer to break into European football.
On a visit to Bhutan this week as a brand ambassador for TMT Steel manufactured by Lhaki Group of Companies, Baichung Bhutia, popularly known to Bhutanese fans for his “bicycle kick”, says that hard work and determination is the key to success in football. “You have to love the game, fight difficulties to succeed,” says the nippy striker of Mohun Bagan FC who shared his experience with Bhutanese media on Thursday.
The journey from school football to Bury Football Club, an English division II League club, was full of challenges according to the captain of the Indian soccer team.
Baichung was picked up by the East Bengal club when he was 15 and playing for his school.
“Coming to Kolkata was a different experience because I had to adjust to a new environment and life,”says Baichung. “But I worked hard.” Baichung joined Bury FC in their mid season in 1999 and was not granted many opportunities in the starting line up, but he nipped two goals in his limited appearances and describes his experience in England as fantastic.
“I always wanted to play outside India for a long time. I have played at the highest level in India and it was important to prove and test myself outside India,” he says. “I was really happy to leave for England. It was a great moment.” Baichung has played against football icons like David Beckham and like many Bhutanese Baichung likes Arsenal FC, but feels that it is too late for him to play for Arsenal.
Lack of professional infrastructure is the biggest impeding factor to the development of football in the region says the football star. “Good football development programmes like tournaments for Under 13, 15, 16 and school tournaments has to be organised more often. More emphasis must be given to grassroots level, they should be exposed to international competitions from an early age and trainings of highest standard should be provided. If we take these steps I feel we can achieve international status.”
Commenting on Indian football Baichung said that it would take at least another 10 years for India to appear at the world stage. “There are lot of changes being made in the Indian football and within the next 10 years India will be among the best footballing nation in Asia,” he says.
By Ugyen Penjore