| Bhaichung Bhutia with East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick at a Calcutta hotel where the player announced he was joining the National League champions Monday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: The speculation is over. It’s not Singapore, Europe or Mohun Bagan and Bhaichung Bhutia is back with good old East Bengal — the club from where his journey began in 1993-94.
The striker on Monday announced he will bolster what is already a formidable roster for the National Football League champions at a city hotel where coach Subhas Bhowmick presented his precious acquisition to the media.
Bhutia said the presence of Bhowmick was one of the main reasons behind his decision to rejoin the red-gold brigade. “Besides that, the club has some ambitious projects and wants to do well in international competitions. “That’s why I want to be associated with them. It’s important to look beyond domestic tournaments.”
The one and only true star of Indian football added he is joining what looks a well-balanced team which is paying proper attention to physical conditioning. “No Indian club has ever hired a foreign professional to look after this hugely important aspect. That’s another reason which prompted me to join East Bengal,” Bhutia said.
“Also, East Bengal is one of those rare clubs where players are recruited with recommendation from the coach rather than officials. They have shown professional attitude which is a step forward.”
Bhutia will complete the formal paper works Tuesday after the morning workout. The East Bengal players have been shifted to a high-profile Salt Lake hotel where they will stay for a month and have two training sessions a day in the nearby SAI complex and Salt Lake Stadium to prepare for the ASEAN Cup to be played in July.
“This is a tournament we can win, since it doesn’t involve clubs from the heavyweight Asian nations,” said Bhowmick. “I felt we needed Bhutia because he is the only Indian footballer who believes we can do well at the international level. Apart from that he is the only Indian with international exposure.”
Asked how Bhutia the player has evolved since leaving East Bengal for English second division club Bury FC in 1999 where he spent three seasons before joining Mohun Bagan in 2002-03, the former India captain said: “Besides maturing as a player, I have had the chance of watching world football closely. There is a lot to learn off the field, which is very important.”
A dig at Bagan
Bhutia also took a dig at Mohun Bagan for not clearing his dues. “About 40-50% of what I was promised has not been paid. Even of the pending amount, I agreed to waive a part, but Mohun Bagan officials have not done anything.”
He didn’t rule out taking the matter to superior authorities like the AIFF, AFC or even Fifa. “So far I have been very patient with Mohun Bagan and co-operated with them without taking any drastic step. I will wait for a while before finalising my future course of action.”
Bhutia criticised Mohun Bagan officials for not considering what he had done for the club and pointing to his injury-induced absence for most part of the season. “I took a big risk by agreeing to play when I was not fully fit, which eventually led to a muscle tear. It was a big risk since my professional career was at stake.”
About future, Bhutia said he was still interested in pursuing a career abroad. “Singapore’s Wellington Woodlands was interested in me, but could not meet my demands as I was keen on a three-month stint. As for Europe, this is not the right time to go for trials. But I will continue to seek an opening overseas.”