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‘Team needed me in Doha’

Calcutta: India captain Bhaichung Bhutia announced a three-month break, Monday, saying he is not physically fit to play for any club at present.

Busy with the launch of his club United Sikkim, the striker quashed talks of imminent retirement. The 34-year-old said that he would return next season and even if he decides to quit, he would do it from East Bengal.

In an interaction with the media, at the club tent on Monday, Bhaichung justified India’s lengthy overseas preparation before the Asian Cup. The Sikkimese Sniper also defended his decision to stay back with the team despite having an injury.

 

 

 

The following are excerpts

On India’s performance in the Asian Cup

India’s performance may not have been outstanding, but it was not too bad either. If you look at the post-match statistics, the Indian team ran more than Australia or South Korea. We are not a strong team, but India is picking up in football.

If the team’s seven-month preparation, mostly overseas, was worth it

I think the seven-month preparation was worth it when it came to performance… There was discipline in the Indian team, players played to a strategy, we attacked and scored three goals. This preparation wouldn’t have been necessary if we didn’t have Australia, South Korea and Bahrain, which are among the top five Asian teams, in our group. It’s difficult for any country’s federation to have that many camps. South Korea did it for the World Cup… But on the whole, I think, it’s been a good outing… Let’s not forget, all over the world, football is like a gamble. Spending Rs 13 crore for seven months when you are playing the Asian Cup is justified.

On the controversy surrounding former India manager Pradeep Chowdhury

For me, Pradeepda is one of the best managers I have worked with. If he hadn’t been a good manager, he wouldn’t have survived for four years. He is one of the people, besides Bob Houghton, who influenced me to come back after retirement… The two of them sat down and spoke to me. One thing that has hurt us all is his timing to desert the team just before the Asian Cup… The timing was wrong. The players’ confidence level was low, some four or five players were injured… That’s the time when we needed to stick together … When you are going to a war against difficult opponents, you don’t expect your general to back out. That action of his hurt us all. I had personally tried to persuade him, even at the last moment, but to no avail.

If he is hurt with allegations of treachery

I have played for 16 years, have played more than 100 games, received the Arjuna award, the Padmashree — that’s my service to the nation. The team was low on confidence and it needed me. And as captain, I wanted to be with them. Had I backed out in that situation, would I get any respect from my teammates?

His staying back with the team despite injury…

The friendly matches for India went horribly wrong before the Asian Cup. I was injured as well. Looking at teams like South Korea and Australia, everyone thought that we would lose by 10-12 goals. So, it would have been easy for me had I quietly backed out. But till the last moment, I wanted to play in the Asian Cup because I wanted to be with the players. I wanted to be a part of the team whether we win or lose. I was injured, but I flew in my own doctor from Chennai. When Bob Houghton wanted to retire sometime back, there were stories that he is scared and wants to escape for the fear of facing teams like South Korea and Australia in the Asian Cup. So, such stories would have come back again had I also backed out.

If the AIFF is taking the right decisions for the game in the country

I think the AIFF, now, is on the right track. We have got five age group teams at the moment, which has never happened earlier. Obviously, it needs to do more. It has to work with the clubs, which I feel they will. But nothing is enough… The AIFF also needs to work with the players, former footballers and, most importantly, with the clubs to take the game forward.

Areas where Indian football needs improvement

In India, we need infrastructure… We need good training grounds. I am saying this to the East Bengal officials as well. We need good medical facilities in the clubs because the clubs invest a lot of money on the players. And if they don’t train and play due to injuries, it’s a loss for the clubs. So, if we have a good medical set up, the players will not sit out for long time and will get the required treatment.

If age is a factor in any sport...

Age cannot determine how long a player can play. It should always be performance oriented. There are a lot of players like (Fabio) Cannavaro and an Australian goalkeeper who played even at 40… Age should never be a barrier for a player.

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