Kolkata, March 20 (IANS) Legendary Indian striker Shyam Thapa, best remembered for his back volley in 1978, feels he is what he is today because of ‘magical’ coach P.K. Banerjee who breathed his last at a city hospital here on Friday.
A pall of gloom descended on the footballing world in the country as one of India’s greatest players and coach succumbed to prolonged illness at the age of 83.
As several former stars, belonging to the golden era of Indian football, mourned the death of a footballing colossus, Thapa said he would never have become a great striker without Banerjee’s guidance and famous ‘vocal tonic’.
“I scored a goal dribbling past four Mohun Bagan defenders when I was at East Bengal in 1975. Pradip da was the coach. Yes I scored the goal but you won’t believe how it was made possible by Pradip da. You have to see it to believe it. He was magical,” Thapa told IANS.
Known for his famous back volley for Mohun Bagan against East Bengal in the 1978 Calcutta Football League, Thapa said the iconic goal which was part of Durga Puja celebrations that year in Bengal, was also to Banerjee’s credit. Banerjee had also jumped ship to Mohun Bagan by then after helping East Bengal win four of their six consecutive Calcutta Football Leagues during 1970-75.
“It was a goal I am still told about. People see me on the streets and still recall that goal. But again, if you ask me that was also Pradip da’s credit. Not only the technical side, his motivational talks spurred me on. Not only me, ask anyone from the team or his teams. They will tell you,” said Thapa who was a regular in the Indian team from 1970-77.
“I had played under Pradip da in the Indian team also. He was a true leader. I have not played under such a great coach, great human being and someone who always used to bring the best out of you. I am Shyam Thapa because I had Pradip Kumar Banerjee to guide me. He was my godfather,” he concluded.
Former India midfielder and coach Gautam Sarkar, who was famously assigned to mark Pele during New York Cosmos’ 2-2 draw against Mohun Bagan in 1977, said Banerjee was the man behind modern coaching in India in the 1970s.
“I am talking to you because of him. Ask anyone who has played under him, they all will echo me. I have never seen someone who can inspire players like him. ‘Vocal tonic’ is an art and he had mastered it,” said Sarkar who captained East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.
“I have learnt so much under him and just by seeing him you get motivated. I don’t want to demean anyone but since Pradip da, Indian football has not seen such a great coach, such a legendary footballing personality,” he added.
A two-time Olympian and the only surviving goal-scorer of India’s 1962 Asian Games gold medal winning team, Banerjee, the Asian Games gold medallist, was suffering from sepsis and multi-organ failure due to pneumonia on a background of Parkinson’s disease, dementia and heart ailments.
Banerjee represented India in 36 official matches, wearing the captain’s armband in six of them. In the process, he scored 19 official goals for the country.
He was also the first Indian Footballer to receive the Arjuna Award (in 1961), and was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri Award in 1990. Banerjee was also bestowed with the FIFA Fairplay Award (in 1990), and the FIFA Centennial Order of Merit in 2004.