Bhaichung Bhutia to play for East Bengal

Bhaichung Bhutia will be handed the ‘Identifying and Nurturing the Icon’ award by East Bengal ahead of the club’s centenary celebration next year.

Bhaichung Bhutia last donned the India colours in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia is likely to end his club career in East Bengal colours eight years after retiring from international football.

“Bhutia has announced his retirement from international football but not from club football. In the centenary year of East Bengal, he has expressed his desire to play for five minutes and announce his retirement from club football,” said EB executive committee member Debabrata Sarkar at a press conference, to announce a series of programmes in the run-up to the club’s centenary celebrations next year, here on Wednesday.

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Sarkar, however, added that the final call of fielding Bhutia would be taken by EB coach Alejandro Menendez. “The coach will decide when and where Bhaichung can play,” said Sarkar in the presence of Bhutia.

Bhutia last donned the India colours in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar. He could not achieve his goal of retiring from club football in EB colours in 2015 due to a knee injury.

Thanking EB for spotting him early, Bhutia – who would be honoured with ‘Identifying and Nurturing the Icon’ award – said, “I came here from Sikkim as a 17-year-old and I cried when I left behind my family. But I got a bigger family here and never became homesick…Other than Mohun Bagan, no other club has made so much contribution to Indian football.”

Bhutia said East Bengal's Federation Cup semifinal win (in which he scored a hat-trick) over Mohun Bagan in 1997 and the overwhelming reception on landing here after winning the ASEAN Cup in Indonesia in 2003 were two unforgettable moments of his career for the club.

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Two other former India captains, Manoranjan Bhttacharya and Bhaskar Ganguly, also expressed their gratitude to the club.

“My parents brought me to this world, but East Bengal gave me identity,” said Bhattacharya.

Ganguly said, “I became the India captain because of my association with East Bengal.”

Both will be honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award.

Iconic footballer P.K. Banerjee will be conferred the ‘Coach of coaches’ award.

Laldanmawia Ralte will get ‘Best Footballer of the Year’ award.

The highest honour, Bharat Gaurav Award, will be conferred on legendary cricket captain Kapil Dev.

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