Bhaichung Bhutia turns 44: A look at his career feats
Former Indian football legend Bhaichung Bhutia turned 44 on Tuesday, He is often considered the torchbearer of Indian football in the international arena. Bhutia continues to be associated with football off the pitch even till the present day. Today, being his 44th birthday, calls for a celebration of his career. So here's a look at the legend's life in football.
Bhutia, the son of two Sikkimese farmers, started playing from an early age. He burst into limelight after winning the 'best player' award at the 1992 edition of the Subroto Cup. Bhutia began his professional career at East Bengal in 1993. His international career began in the 1995 Nehru Cup, where he went on to score his first goal for the Indian football team.
He joined Bury FC in 1999 making him the first Indian footballer to sign a professional contract with a club from Europe. He also became just the second Indian footballer after Mohammed Salim to play professionally in Europe. He was also the first Indian player to have made 100 appearances for the national team.
Bhutia has scored 42 goals for India in 107 games, a feat only bettered by Sunil Chhetri (72 goals in 115 appearances). He went on to register 19 goals in the Kolkata derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Notably, he was the first person to score a hat-trick in this fixture, which he did in the 1997 Federation Cup semi-final.
The Bhutia-led East Bengal side created history in the 2003 ASEAN Club Championship. This pan-Asian competition saw many league winners from various countries take part, and East Bengal, the only invited team, ended up winning the tournament. Bhutia was named Man of the Match in the final, and was the tournament's top-scorer.
In 97 games for East Bengal, Bhutia found the net 52 times. He also represented Bagan and went on to score 25 goals in 56 games. He won 19 trophies with East Bengal and won another four with Bagan. For the Blue Tigers, Bhutia won the AFC Cup Challenge in 2008, besides tasting success in three SAFF Championships and two Nehru Cups.