The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhaichung close to 2-month Perak deal

Calcutta: Before setting off for Jakarta for the ASEAN Club Championship, Bhaichung Bhutia had two dreams.

He was eager to see an Indian team do well on foreign soil. And he had this urge to draw the attention of foreign clubs as an individual. After achieving both, Bhutia has got a third — his teammates receiving international offers as well.

“It’s very pleasing to see others being approached by foreign clubs. I’ve always felt Indians must play abroad to sharpen their skills. It’s another matter whether they will accept the offers. But the fact that they are being sounded out is very heartening,” Bhutia told The Telegraph from Singapore on Monday.

The East Bengal team is there on a halt on its way back from Jakarta after a victorious run in the ASEAN Club Championship.

Bhutia is close to finalising a two-month deal with Perak FC of Malaysia. “I will be there from mid-August and return for the National League and the AFC Champions League. It’s good that East Bengal will make some money as well.”

East Bengal, Bhutia said, are likely to be paid a handy $10,000 for releasing him on loan. Though Bhutia’s personal deal has been finalised, negotiations between the clubs are still on. “It doesn’t matter that I was the first Indian footballer to try my luck abroad. It was my dream to see my colleagues do the same. It seems that the trend I had set is gathering steam. It feels good.”

Bhutia said it’s time Indians started looking beyond national boundaries and make a mark, at least at the Asian level.

“We have the talent. We just need the belief that we can make it big internationally too. Winning the LG Cup in Vietnam last year and the recent victory should give us the confidence. I can see a transformation in attitude. We want to fight, irrespective of the reputation of the opposition. There has been a lot of change in the psyche of Indian players over the last five years,” Bhutia noted.

Acknowledging that foreigners have been calling all the shots in Indian football of late, Bhutia said it was special to see some Indians playing key roles in the ASEAN Club Championship.

“They have shown they are very good football-wise and can do well away from home. That was very important.

“Earlier, we used to feel defeated before the start of an international match. Now, we go in believing we can win. It’s a question of ambition.”

The striker from Sikkim felt it started with the memorable win over the UAE in a World Cup qualifier in 2001 and gained momentum following the LG Cup triumph.

“I will rate the LG Cup and the ASEAN Championship together. Both are memorable, difficult to choose between the two.”

According to him, the three keys to East Bengal’s success have been team spirit, discipline and the allround balance of the side.

“Support from the club, sponsors and everybody else involved in preparation also played a vital role. We worked for each other and proved that Indian football is changing. It was great to establish that.

“Now, other Asian teams will sit up and take notice. They have seen that a team from India can put it across a quality side. They are bound to be aware of us after this.”

The inspirational striker, clearly a transformed player after his three-year stint with Bury FC in England, said the first match in Jakarta which they lost 0-1 to BEC Tero Sasana gave them the confidence.

“Nobody expected us to make it tough for the AFC

Champions League finalists. They all started paying serious attention to us after that. Now they know what we are capable of.”

As the next stop, Bhutia is looking at the Federation Cup, but deeper inside, he is probably focussing on the AFC Champions League.

“We don’t know how far we will progress in that tournament. But we know that we are keen to do very, very well. We will take it one match at a time and see what we can do.”

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