Bringing to an end an illustrious sixteen year international career, Bhaichung Bhutia formally announced his retirement from National duty.
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 amongst his peers in what has largely been a mediocre era for Indian football on the whole.
Goal.com has a look at the career of the Tinkitam born forward and brings to you a detailed analysis of every important event in his long and illustrious career.
Born in a small village in South Sikkim, Bhutia was a top-class athlete as a kid and alongwith football also played Badminton and Basketball. Soccer obsessed from a very young age, the young striker’s parents were really concerned about his future as he failed to pay enough attention to his studies. His Uncle Karma Bhutia though kept encouraging the youngster and helped him get a Scholarship at the Tashi Namgyal Academy in Sikkim.
He impressed one and all with his abilities there and soon made it into the SAI centre in Gangtok.
First Tryst With The Limelight (1992)
In 1992, playing in the Subroto Cup in Delhi, the Sikkimese player won the “best player of the tournament” award and was soon noticed by prominent personalities of Indian football.
Off To Kolkata (1993-1995)
Noticed in the aforementioned Subroto Cup, Bhutia packed his bags and with the help of Bhaskar Ganguly, who is a former Indian Goalkeeper, left for East Bengal.
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.
On the field, Bhaichung continued to impress and made rapid strides. In 1994, he top scored in the Kolkata first division with a healthy return of fourteen goals also won the best player in the league award.
He also represented the National team in the U-16 Asian Cup qualifiers.
To New Challenges In Punjab (1995-1997)
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.
He also won the Durand Cup, Federation Cup and the IFA Shield in his time with the Millmen, also being the top scorer in the Federation Cup in 1995 as well as 1996, scoring six and five goals respectively.
The new wonderkid on the blocks was duly given his first International call-up against Uzbekistan in the Nehru Gold Cup and created history by becoming the youngest player to have ever scored for India by slotting home the winner against the Uzbeks. He was just 19 at that time.
He added the accolade of the “Indian Player Of The Year” to his now growing personal trophy cabinet in 1996.
He added another record to his collection when on 9th February 1997 he scored five goals against Mahindra United. The most scored by a player in a single game in the National Football League (NFL) back then.
Returns To Kolkata (1997-99)
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.
Bhutia won the SAFF Cup with the National Team in 1997 and defended the title in Goa in 1999 where he was the top scorer as well as the most outstanding player of the Championship.
On the personal front, he was conferred with the Arjuna Award for his exemplary displays in football in 1998, the same year when he was made the Captain of East Bengal.
Bhutia also earned the distinction of scoring the first hat-trick in the local derby between fierce rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, when he scored one in the Federation Cup semi-final.
To Frontiers New (1999-2002)
By now 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.
Back To Indian Shores (2002-03)
The Indian ace had a troubled last season in England. A knee injury restricted him to just three appearances for Bury and he was eventually released after the club went into administration.
He returned to the familiar shores of Kolkata, albeit signing for Mohun Bagan. His sole season in his first stint with the Mariners though was hampered with injuries and he played no part in Mohun Bagan’s All Airlines Gold Cup triumph.
The Real Homecoming (2003-2006)
After a year beset by injuries, Bhutia returned to his beloved East Bengal for the next season.
He starred in the historic 2003 ASEAN Championship victory of The Red And Gold Brigade, as he scored a goal in the final, which East Bengal won 3-1 against the Bec Tero Sasana.
Bhutia was named the “man of the match” in the final and also top scored in the tournament with nine goals.
The striker then spent three months with Perak FA, a Malaysian club and had a short but successful stay as he scored four goals in eight games. His final game for them was a Malaysia Cup semi-final defeat to Sabah FA in match in which he later described himself as “the villain of the piece” as he missed several chances.
He returned to East Bengal for the regular 2003-04 season and was instrumental as the team clinched the I-League title, scoring twelve goals for the Kolkata outfit.
In the season that followed, he yet again spearheaded the Red And Gold Brigade’s attack, but the team finished third as Dempo eventually won the title.
In 2005-06, his last season of his third stint with East Bengal, Bhutia was named the “Player Of The National Football League” by the All India Football Federation, as he scored twelve goals in the league, although the League title eluded him, with East Bengal being pipped by Mahindra United to the title.
On the national front, Bhutia was part of the squad that lost in the finals of the 2003 Afro-Asian Games to Uzbekistan.
He did however lead the team to victory in the 2005 SAFF Cup, a tournament where he was also awarded the Most Valuable Player trophy.
Switching Back To The Mariners (2006-2009)
After a successful few years with East Bengal, Bhutia decided to go back to city rivals Mohun Bagan for a second stint, in which he made as much news for off the field issues as he did for his on the field contributions.
While the Green And Maroon brigade did win the Federation Cup with the Indian ace winning the Most Valuable Player award as he top scored with four goals, the Kolkatan outfit struggled in the league and finished just above the relegation spots in Bhutia’s first season back with the club.
The Sikkimese striker was then made the Captain of the squad in 2007-08 and Mohun Bagan managed to finish a much more respectable fourth, with Bhutia scoring nine goals.
On a personal front, Bhutia was awarded the “Indian Player Of The Year” award for the second time in his career, becoming only the second Indian after I.M Vijayan to win it twice.
The third season saw the club finishing second behind Churchill Brothers in the league, even though they went on a record ten match winning streak. The Mariners otherwise had a successful season as they won the Super Cup with Bhutia scoring a hat-trick in the final while they also reigned supreme in the Calcutta League and the Federation Cup, completing a remarkable treble.
However the last season ended for the Indian ace with him being mired in controversy over his participation in the reality show Jhalak Dikhla Ja, a show that he eventually won. The club officials felt that the forward neglected his duties towards the outfit during his stint on the dancing competition, a charge Bhutia denied.
It led to a nasty showdown between the club and the player, with Bhutia eventually leaving the club after Mohun Bagan issued him with a six months suspension which was eventually over-turned by the AIFF.
On the National front Bhutia enjoyed unprecedented success as he led his country to the AFC Challenge Cup triumph in 2008, with him winning “The Most Valuable Player” trophy and allowed the club direct entry to the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
The striker also completed another milestone when he won his 100th cap in the Nehru Cup in 2009 against Kyrgyzstan, becoming the first ever Indian player to reach the landmark. India eventually won the tournament, defeating Syria in penalty shoot-outs, with the team Captain winning another “Player Of The Tournament” award.
Bhutia also created headlines when he represented the “Edu” team lead by Clarence Seedorf in the Goal4Africa match held on 12th July 2008 in the Allianz Arena, Munich. Playing against several world class players, the Indian Captain still managed to score a brace.
Back in India, inspired by the Professional Footballers Association in England, Bhutia helped form the Football Players Association Of India (FPAI), which looks after the welfare of Indian footballers.
India’s flag-bearer in football was also finally awarded the Padmashree in 2008 in recognition of his services to Indian football.
Deciding To End It Where It All Started (2009-2011)
The Tinkitam born forward returned for one last stint with East Bengal and promptly declared that they were the last club he would play for. His stint with East Bengal though was littered with injuries and later he was away in the National camp in preparation for the AFC Asian Cup, thereby making a minimal impact on his return to his first club.
On the International front, Bhutia bought a glittering national career to an end by finally appearing in Asia’s biggest tournament, the AFC Asian Cup. Although the Indian Captain was hampered by injuries which ruled him out of the first two games, he eventually came on for a cameo against South Korea.
End Of A Glorious Chapter…..But The Beginning Of Another One? (2011)
Bhaichung Bhutia returned from the Asian Cup and decided to snub advances of several I-League clubs to drop down to the I-League Division II to play for United Sikkim, a club of which he is also a promoter.
Suffering from an injury, Bhutia couldn’t contribute as much as he would have wanted but the highlight of the campaign was when the Indian ace decided to turn out as a central defender, where yet again he excelled, even though the club failed to win promotion.
After the exit of Bob Houghton, Armando Colaco didn't pick Bhutia in the squad for the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers which miffed the former India skipper as he went on record to say that the coach should have at least informed the senior players of his decision to not select them.
On August 24 2011, the Sikkimese poacher decided to quit the International Arena, bringing to an end a sixteen year association with the National team, during which time he created several milestones and won numerous trophies.
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