Former India international striker Xavier Pius is among the few footballers from Kerala who were fortunate to be coached by the late P.K. Banerjee.
Pius, who was part of the hugely successful Premier Tyres football team, played a few seasons in Kolkata with Mohun Bagan in the late 1970s and came under the tutelage of Banerjee. One of the best strikers in the country, during his playing days, Pius recalls PK more as a friend than as a coach.
“I was nervous when I landed in Kolkata in 1970s. It was a big culture change for me. Those days players from outside Bengal didn't mingle too much with the local players. Shyam Thapa, Ulaganathan and I were the outstation players and we were together most of the time. But before every match P.K. used to come to our room and would talk a lot to make us comfortable,” Pius said.
“The man was like a walking encyclopedia. He followed all sports and would tell us incidents from other games to motivate us. One day, he would be taking to us about boxing and the next day it would be about tennis. He was very friendly. As we were all established players he never bothered to change our style, but he was good in getting the best out of us. I struck a good rapport with Ulaganathan and our combination was deadly and we scored a lot of goals.” The last time Pius met Banerjee was in Kolkata in 2009 when he was recovering from a mild heart attack. “The warmth was still there,” Pius recollected.
Former SBT coach N.M. Najeeb was another player who played under Banerjee, during his stint with East Bengal in the 1979-80 season. “The first thing which struck me was his simplicity. When I first addressed him as coach he insisted that I should call him as PK da . He was a great motivator and his man management skills was superb and that was one reason why he was very successful as a coach. He took us out for dinner and sometimes invited the whole team to his place for food. He had a great regard for my uncle Olympian Abdul Rahman who was his team-mate in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He would constantly remind me how good my uncle was and wanted me to be even better than him,” he said.
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