For the majority of today, this song(Everything will be alright) by Bob Marley has been stuck inside my head. I don’t know why.
Now, that is probably a strange introduction to a tribute article, isn’t it? However, if I think too carefully, it probably isn’t. Because the man I will be talking about for the rest of this article, is Jose Ramirez Barreto and all Mohun Bagan fans(well, at least I) can visualize the imagery of Barreto singing “Everything’s gonna be alright” to us in his calm and magnetic aura during every match. Yes, this is THE Jose Ramirez Barreto, the sabuj tota, the very heart and soul of Mohun Bagan for eleven long years.
Well, it was official about two weeks ago – this will be Barreto’s last season in a green and maroon jersey. I must say when I heard the news, it became all too sentimental for me. Yes, I’m the same person who had to see a certain Cesc Fabregas leave for Barcelona at the start of the season, but this felt different altogether. This is different. This is Indian football – a dark place, unlike the gloriously lit European nights. However, for eleven long years, one foreigner lit our Salt Lake stadium with his sheer brilliance and commitment. Yes, he had his stints with Mahindra United and in Malaysia but he was always our Bagan boy.
Frankly I don’t really care about his record. For starters, it’s brilliant. Here’s a detailed version for the stat freaks out there:
Barreto, who joined Mohun Bagan in 1999-2000, has played 397 matches for the green and maroon brigade. He scored a total of 227 goals. His first came against Dempo way back on January 17, 2000. In the National League Barreto scored 93 goals in 187 matches
He scored 10 hat-tricks and netted 17 goals against Bagan’s arch-rivals East Bengal. He has been the top-scorer of a tournament 10 times. However, in the National League, he was the top scorer only once. That was in 2000-01, and he got 14 goals. (Stats courtesy: Hariprasad Chattopadhyay)
But to me, he was closer than any other players – he was humble, God-fearing, charismatic and then an amazing footballer. I’ve lost count of how many times he came to our rescue. Be it a Kolkata Derby or a friendly match against Pune FC – he prepared each game like he was going into war. He is a brilliant example of a ‘Play for the badge in front of your shirt, and the people will remember the name on your back’ player. The crowd loved him. In an atmosphere of incessant swears and blames, you could hear chants of “Barreto! Barreto!” multiple times in every match he played. I considered myself honoured to have joined in those carefree and lung-bursting chants. He attained a demi-God stature that players can only dream of.
Off field, he was the perfect role model. I was fortunate enough to have lived close to his home. Every time you’d see him, he will always greet you with a loving smile. It never bothered him when someone asked to get pictures with him and he gave autographs unhesitatingly.
India has been fortunate enough to have been graced by many foreigners, but for me he is the greatest ever. A captain, a thorough professional and an even better human being – this guy has it all. And the finish to his Mohun Bagan career couldn’t have been better. On a day where tickets were made free for Barreto’s last game, thousands braved the summer heat to cheer for him one last time. It’s his habit not to disappoint us – he scored in his final match and got the MoM award to finish off his glittering and legendary career at Mohun Bagan. This was probably the first time when there were tears after a Barreto goal. There was an unseen delirium and a devastating void looming over the galleries today. This was his last time.
At the age of 35, he will now play for Bhawanipur next season and I wish him all the best in the world. This man deserves it. Thank you for everything, Jose Ramirez Barreto!