By Nilanjan Datta
Late 8 pm on Sunday evening with the fog having enveloped the distant Akshardham Mandir, street lights dimmed, Bhaichung Bhutia, for the first time in the day found time out to take a deep breath and sit on his sofa. The practice session had long ended, television interviews finished by then, photo-shoots completed and even fans had been obliged.
Bhaichung looked around, picked up a bottle and gulped the water at one go. The walls watched. You found it the most convenient moment to have a sneak peek into his heart. And there, it was running high; more than the adrenalin, the emotions. No tears; no ecstasy; rather a grievance – the grievance of his body letting him down, forcing him to his farewell.
‘Farewell?’ Does it mean his reflexes inside the box aren’t deadly anymore? Does it mean he can’t wrong foot defenders with his sudden burst of speed? Does it mean he isn’t good anymore? Till yesterday night, he smelt the goal in his sleep. So what is this Farewell Match all about?
The specially designed jersey for his Farewell Match by Team Kit sponsors Nike lay next. The inscription, ‘Bhaichung – the start of a legacy,’ caught his eye. Bhaichung got up, folded his jersey and as he has always done, hung it in the wardrobe.
Monday morning at the Ambedkar Stadium was, however, different. There have been so many Bhaichung Bhutia jams outside this Stadium. Two Nehru Cup triumphs, the AFC Challenge Cup triumph, so many significant victories in club football had brought alive the Capital, often cursed of not having a football culture.
On the turf, the balls waited for Bhaichung to address them to the net. More than the emotions, the adrenalin ran high. He flung himself for tackles, dived for headers, did the chasing and pressed his teammates to get the ball back. In between, so many taps, headers, flicks, kicks and volleys bulged the net; some even prompted Bhaichung to raise his hand as a gesture of celebration. Who says, this is his Farewell Match?
The willing mind dragged his unwilling body. The temptation always stays for sportspersons to hide their injuries to prolong their career. Bhaichung, in any case has been different. That has been his football, his charisma; that has stayed his gesture. Commitment has always stayed his trademark.
The session ended, the adrenalin subsided. Emotions resurfaced. The walk back from the tunnel to the Dressing Room to the team bus to the team hotel passed off fast. Time flies.
On the other side- Bayern Munich’s Trophy Cabinet back in Munich boasts of 22 Bundesliga and 4 Champions League titles. But Philipp Lahm, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger have known by now, India’s No. 15 is a special player -- it’s Bhaichung Bhutia.
Back in his hotel room, he opened the cupboard and looked at the special jersey and then the inscription. ‘Bhaichung – the start of a legacy,’ lay written over it. There’s always a start, always a new beginning. He touched the logo – the emblem which has stayed close to his chest. He will clutch onto it during the National Anthem for one more time.
Farewell match? OK. But the national anthem will stay with him – forever.
The kick-off is slated for 6 PM at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Tuesday, January 10, 2012.