PK Banerjee, who passed away on Friday at the age of 83, was way ahead of the times and a master of psychology in soccer, believes former India footballer Gautam Sarkar.
“He was way ahead of his times. He was a master at motivating players. When I joined East Bengal from Kidderpore Sporting Club in 1972, it was tough to feature in the playing XI. But Pradipda motivated me from the very first day. He clearly told me — you’ve come here to play, not to sit outside,” Sarkar told The Telegraph.
Sarkar was part of the East Bengal and Mohun Bagan squads which won the “treble” under PK’s tutelage in 1972 and 1977, respectively.
Both teams won the IFA Shield, Rovers and Durand Cup to complete the “treble”.
“I know it was not an easy job to make it to the XI as Mohan Singh and Samaresh Chowdhary just returned from pre-Olympics and were excellent in the midfield for East Bengal. But Pradipda continuously told me — ‘you can play better than them’. Everybody talks about his vocal tonic, but his main strength was identifying talent and nurturing it.
“He used to motivate with his rhetoric skills during or just prior to the game. I would say he started it much before Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson gave his ‘hairdyer treatment’.
“People know me because of him. He asked me to prepare myself and suggested that I train hard. I used to train more than once a day,” Sarkar recalled.
It was the match against Mohammedan Sporting, in the Calcutta Football League (CFL), which changed Sarkar’s career.
“Just before the match against Mohammedan Sporting, Pradipda told me — keep yourself ready. It was the match and it changed my life. I called the shots that day. We won convincingly and I scored one of our two goals. Mohammed Akbar was the other scorer. After this match, I was always in the playing XI,” Sarkar said. “I was a vital part of the team that won the treble that year.”
“Much before I became famous, he told my father, Makhan Ranjan Sarkar, that I would make our family proud.”
“Pradipda knew how to get the best out of a player. I can’t remember the opponent but it was a CFL match and I was not playing well. Pradipda called me near the sidelines and whispered — ‘you are not playing like Gautam Sarkar’. I felt very humiliated, got charged up and for rest of the match proved to be the team’s livewire. This was his technique to inspire the players,” he said.
PK was not just a coach for Sarkar, he was much more than that. “When I was not getting a chance to play for East Bengal, he used to call me at his residence. And there he never talked about football. He asked boudi (PK’s wife Arati) to cook payesh for me. It was known to him that I loved the sweet dish more than anything else,” he said.
“His style of work was completely different. I was fortunate to play with him in 1967. So I knew him before he was my coach at East Bengal. Those days Eastern Railway used to hire trainee players. Since most of the players went on to play the inter-railway meet, they hired me for CFL. There I played half a match with Pradipda, it was against Rajasthan Club.”
Sarkar was part of Mohun Bagan’s treble-winning squad of 1977. “That year we had very good team. We played against New York Cosmos, which had players like Pele, Carlos Alberto Torres but we were fearless before and during the game, thanks to Pradipda,” he said.
“Before the Cosmos match he told me, ‘it takes courage to stop Pele and I hope you have it’. It served as a boost and I proved myself that day,” he remembered.
“I knew that he was not keeping well, but when I got the news that he was no more, it was earth-shattering,” Sarkar said.