“Sheet Grishma Barsha, Barreto’ e Bhorsha….” (winter, summer or rain… Barreto is the savior) – A chant familiar if you are a regular to the maidans of Kolkata. A chant that made a man into demi-god and his fan into his worshippers.
Jose Ramirez Barreto – a name synonymous to Mohun Bagan and Indian football finally decides to hang up his boots after eleven years of relentless service to the oldest football club of India.
Teams like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting have always produced a plethora of football stars. Though India had struggled to make a mark at the International level, we have always had quality footballers who have become legends in their own rights. From the likes of Shibdas Bhaduri, Gosto Pal, Chuni Goswami, P.K. Banerjee, Tulsidas Balaram to the modern greats like I.M. Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia and the latest Sunil Chettri, there has never been a shortage of talented footballers in this country.
Come the seventies, Indian football got a new dimension when it opened its doors for foreign recruits. Though by foreign players, our minds immediately think of the Messis, the Maradonas and the Ronaldos, yet there are a certain breed of players, who may not be as great as the names above but have left the mark of their greatness on Indian Football.
One such name that features right at the top of the list is Jose Ramirez Barreto. Born in Porto Alegre, Brazil, he left home at a tender age of 15 years to play football. After learning the basics at the academy at Gremio under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Barreto decided to try his luck in India.
He joined Mohun Bagan in 1999, along with Igor Shkvyrin. Paired up with Igor and the legend Chima Okorie, Barreto captured the imagination of the fans by his skillful touches and razor sharp finishing. The trio won Mohun Bagan many accolades and Barreto found a permanent place in the heart of the Mariners. Soon after Chima Okorie’s retirement and Igor’s departure, the chants of “Chima…Chima…” gave away to “Barreto…Barreto…” – Jose Barreto became the heart throb of the maroon and green brigade.
After spending five successful seasons at the club, he decided to move to Malaysia. He played for Penang for a season only to return to India the next year, turning out for Mahindra United. He displayed dazzling form for the Mahindra team that led the newly elected officials at the Mohun Bagan to bring him back to his most favored club.
The return of the “Green Parakeet”, as he is widely known, in 2006, was marked by the club handing him over the captaincy of the club and thus started a new chapter for Jose Barreto. He took on the role of a playmaker and excelled in his new avatar. He won Mohun Bagan the National Football League, the Federation Cup, the Durand Cup and the IFA Shield. He attained cult status through his performances and the fans started to believe that Barreto could save their team from any situation.
The number 10 jersey became his second skin as he went on to score 200 goals for the club in 324 games – a feat that has never been achieved by any other player who has donned the green and maroon jersey.
Though people will argue whether Barreto has been the best foreign player ever to play on Indian soil, yet all agree that he has been the only one who devoted his life to a club. Indian football has witnessed the greatness of Majid Baskar, Chima Okorie, Igor Shkvyrin, Sammy Omollo to the latest Odafa Okelie and Ranty Martins, but Jose Ramirez Barreto will always be remembered for his dedication and devotion towards Mohun Bagan.
Chima Okorie might have been a bigger crowd puller and Odafa may be a prolific goal getter, yet there was only one man who became the heartbeat of the fans. His contribution to the club cannot be measured by the number of goals he scored or the number of assists he provided with. Barreto touched the nerves of the fans with his leadership, demeanor and humility.
Several clubs have won championships and leagues depending on the performance of their international players but Barreto has etched his place in the hearts of every Indian football fan leave alone the hard core Mohun Baganis.
A place so special that the chants of “Barreto….Barreto…” will be echoing through the club lawns even after he’s hung up his boots!