New Delhi, Aug 24 (Calcutta Tube / IBNS) India’s iconic footballer Baichung Bhutia on Wednesday announced his retirement from the international football after being frustrated with injuries for the last seven-nine months.
Bhutia, who was the first Indian to sign a professional contract with an European football club when he signed for Bury in 1999, said the biggest regret for him is not being able to play in the World Cup.
“It is a hard decision for any footballer to decide on his retirement and I wasn’t any exception. But everyone has to retire one day. I wanted to retire after playing a match but recurring injuries prevented me from donning the India jersey for one more time,” Bhaichung said.
“I’m lucky enough to still be associated with football. My association with United Sikkim Football Club and my Football Schools will keep me going.”
Bhutia is also the only Indian footballer to play more than 100 matches for his country during his distinguished 16-year career.
“I had a fantastic 16 years of international football. I enjoyed every moment to have represented the country, to have contributed to the game,” Bhutia told reporters on Wednesday.
“I wanted to continue playing but the last seven-eight months have been frustrating due to a lot of injuries. So I have decided to quit,” he added.
Bhutia, however, will continue playing for his club, United Sikkim FC, which he founded last year.
“Lot of things in life do not happen the way we wish so I am quitting from international football but will continue playing for my club,” he said.
Bhutia said he took the decision after he failed to regain full fitness after missing most of India’s campaign at the Asian Cup in Qatar.
“Under the circumstances, this was the best decision. I made several attempts in the last few months to make a comeback, but could not because of recurring injuries. But I will continue playing club football.”
Bhutia is the recipient of India’s fourth-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, and has also been honoured with the Arjuna award, the country’s second highest sporting award.
Bhutia was frustrated that India were ranked a lowly 153 in the FIFA rankings despite having a huge population to draw from, adding that he was willing to join the sport’s administration.
“My commitment and contribution to Indian football will not diminish and I am ready to help the AIFF (All-India Football Federation) in whatever way they want me,” he said.
Asked if he believes Indian football is in safe hands, Bhutia said: “I believe it is. The players are a much professional bunch. They won’t compromise on their training even for a day. Football is their bread and butter. I have high hopes on Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpeklua. There’s plenty of talent around.”
He stressed that youth development is only the road ahead for Indian football.
“We need to stress on the Youth Development Programme. The clubs can never escape that responsibility. Clubs all around the World have their own grass root Programme. The Indian Clubs need to take a leaf out of their book,” he said.