Current Indian team assistant coach and Indian Arrows head oach Shanmugam Venkatesh hailed the late Pradip Kumar Banerjee as the “first icon of Indian football.”
Former India captain and ex-head coach Banerjee, who has represented the country 36 times with 19 goals to his name, passed away in a private hospital in Kolkata at the age of 83 on March 20.
Venkatesh who had come through the national team ranks when Banerjee was the AIFF Technical Director showered praises on Banerjee, stating that his achievements took him to a legendary status.
“He was a national icon much before India won the 1983 Prudential World Cup. He had that ability to make fans go crazy over him. His ability to motivate players was unparalleled,” Venkatesh said.
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“He is an absolute legend of the game. He was technically so gifted back in his playing days. But he was also a very good motivator. He always had the right words for the players.”
Banerjee was a part of a golden era in Indian football, where belonged to the 1962 national team that clinched gold at the Jakarta Asian Games
“He has played so many matches at the top international levels, that he knew very well how to deal with pressure situations,” said Venkatesh. “He had a gift of reading the pressure surrounding a game, and how a player is reacting to it. That made him really special.”
"His contribution is unmatched"
Harjinder Singh, who represented India from 1974 to 1983, was often described as the being the ‘most-crafty’ among all his contemporaries during his career. And as the Indian football fraternity mourns the loss of Banerjee, Harjinder said that Banerjee has “left leaving behind an unmatched legacy.”
"Mr Banerjee's death came as a big shock to me. I was instantly reminded of the wonderful memories we shared. All of it came flooding back to me -- the places we went to, the conversations we had, the things we achieved -- all of it was flashing before my eyes,” Harjinder stated. “He was a man of football and because of it both of us had a solid bond. His contribution to the sport is unmatched," he stated.
"Nowadays, coaches have a lot of exposure, but in our time, it was limited in comparison. I have trained under a number of excellent coaches in my career but P.K. Banerjee was the best I have played under. The knowledge of football he had and the manner way he spoke made him stand out.”
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Banerjee took over the reins as India coach in 1981 for the Merdeka Cup, where India reached the semis after defeating the UAE and Indonesia, before bowing out after a narrow defeat to Brazilian side Sao Paulo XI.
For Harjinder, the tournament was the 'best time' of his career as he was adjudged as the competition's best midfielder and scored a memorable brace in a 2-2 draw against host Malaysia.
“The period of one to one-and-a-half years with him was the best time of my playing career. It was special. I remember he used to give my example to the younger players in the team and it really motivated me."
The two remained in touch over the years and Harjinder recollected how they used to meet whenever he went to Kolkata.
"He would ask me how I was doing and how my work was going on. We talked about the old days -- Merdeka Cup and Asian Games, and how the game has changed over the years. His memory was very sharp and he could talk about football all day. Football was in his blood!" he said.