The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Injured Bhutia caught between club and career

Calcutta, Dec. 7: It is a classic dilemma. Bhaichung Bhutia has a torn left calf muscle, which hasn’t healed yet. But Mohun Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya simply has to field him versus East Bengal in their national Football League encounter on Sunday. “Do I have an alternative'” asks the desperate coach.

Maybe not. But does the player have an alternative' “Look, the system in this country is about one-year contracts and that is the space of time in which you deliver or perish,” said Bhaichung. “Consider the case of Ronaldo. I can say it clearly, that had I been given a similar three-year contract, I would not have played Sunday. It is a pressure situation where the club wants, the fans want, everybody just wants. You can’t help it.”

What the player is looking at is the bigger picture. “It is a question of one match versus the entire league, most of which is left to be played. And it is a question, for me, of one match versus my entire career, perhaps.”

As a professional, with no more than soccer to sustain him, this is too big a decision. “I can’t sprint, I’ll be no good in endurance, I can’t even say I am 80 per cent now,” says Bhaichung. “Yet, in this system you get out there and shake a leg even if you are 40 per cent.”

Teammate and ace midfielder Basudeb Mondal is more optimistic. “Bhaichung is a pro. He will deliver tomorrow, take it from me. He understands very well how much he can exert and he will keep to his limits, we need not worry on that front.” Basudeb has been around long enough to understand, and probably he is right. Yet, he isn’t Bhaichung.

The coach understands, too. But it is that same pressure that forces the player that forces Bhattacharya’s hand as well. “I understand his situation… But when I have to deal with the team, and with a derby match, I just can’t help it.”

Possibly there will be a lesson in the Bhaichung incident. Possibly a lesson that will be learnt at a rather high cost. Mohun Bagan secretary Anjan Mitra says he has no alternative but to push the player to a possible career-threatening situation. “Look, we can’t offer a star of Bhaichung’s stature a multiple-year contract, we can’t afford it,” he said. “We do have Sunil Chhetri on a three-year contract, but that’s something we can afford. What can we do about players like Bhaichung'”

A systemic fault, really.

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