Former Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia turned 37 today and Sportskeeda celebrates the occasion by listing 37 facts about the Indian football icon.
• Bhaichung was born on December 15, 1976 in Tinkitam, the smallest village of Namchi near South Sikkim. He attended the St. Xavier’s Primary School there.
• He is the youngest son of Dorji Dorma and Sonam Topden, who sadly passed away on December 6, 2012. Bhaichung has two elder brothers and an elder sister.
• Bhaichung’s football education started at Sikkim’s Tashi Namgyal Academy before a stint at SAI Gangtok. He was adjudged the best player in the 1992 Subroto Cup with former India international Bhaskar Ganguly first noticing his exceptional skills.
• At 14, he joined the Boys Club in Gangtok where his uncle Karma Bhutia was the chief coach.
• His first professional club was East Bengal, having signed for them at the age of 16. He has had four spells at East Bengal and wishes to play his last professional game in their colours.
• Bhaichung has won almost every domestic trophy with East Bengal including the National Football League (NFL) title in 2003-04.
• The finest moment of his club career came in the 2003 Asean Cup in which he scored eight goals, including one in the final which East Bengal won 3-1 against Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana.
• Bhaichung also has the distinction of scoring six goals in one match against Army FC of Philippines in that competition.
• Bhaichung’s first-ever NFL title came with JCT in 1996-97, the season where he also finished as the top scorer in the tournament.
• He has had two spells at East Bengal’s arch-rivals Mohun Bagan. The first one in 2002-03 was injury plagued but in his second stint (2006-2009), he helped revive the fortunes of the green-and-maroon brigade by lifting the Federation Cup twice.
• In the 1995 Nehru Cup, he became India’s youngest goal scorer at 19 after netting in the 1-0 win over Uzbekistan on his international debut.
• He has the distinction of netting the first ever hat-trick in an East Bengal–Mohun Bagan derby, a feat he achieved in 1997 when he scored thrice for East Bengal in the 4-1 thrashing of the green-and-maroon brigade in the Federation Cup semi-final.
• In the summer of 1999, he became the second Indian player after Mohammed Salim to play abroad as he was signed by English third division outfit Bury FC. However, injuries hampered his stay in England as he couldn’t play regularly during his three-year stint there.
• Before getting a contract at Bury, Bhaichung gave trials in several English clubs including some EPL teams like Aston Villa and Fulham.
• On April 15 2000, he became the first Asian-born player to score a goal in an English professional game.
• Bhaichung has also had spells in Malaysia, having played for Perak FA in 2003 and MK Selangor in 2005.
• Under his captaincy, India won the LG Cup in Vietnam in 2002, South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championships thrice, two Nehru Cup titles (in 2007 and 2009) and the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup which assured them a place in the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar.
Bhaichung Bhutia celebrates after India won SAFF Cup under his leadership in 2005
• Bhaichung Bhutia was adjudged the ‘most valuable player’ of the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup but due to several injuries, he could only manage one substitute appearance against South Korea in the 2011 Asian Cup.
• Bhaichung is a two-time AIFF Player of the Year winner, having won the award in 1995 and 2008.
• An Arjuna Awardee in 1999, Bhaichung is one of five footballers to be awarded the prestigious ‘Padma Shree’ and the only player to win it during his playing career.
• Bhaichung has been a regular in charity matches where he has rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names of the beautiful game. The first such opportunity came in July 2008 in the ‘GOAL4AFRICA’ game at the Allianz Arena in Munich, where he scored two goals.
• Then in January 2010, he scored for ‘Zidane XI’ against ‘Benfica All Stars XI’ in Lisbon in a match dedicated to the victims of the Haiti earthquake.
• On December 30 2004, Bhaichung married his long time girlfriend Madhuri Tipnis in his native village of Tinkitam.
• Bhaichung and Madhuri have been blessed with a son and two daughters. Bhaichung wants his son to become a tennis player.
Bhaichung wants his son to become a tennis player
• The Sikkimese Sniper added glamour to Indian football by taking part and winning the dance reality show ‘Jhalak Dikhhla Ja’ in 2009.
• It was his participation in the dance reality show that led to the fallout with Mohun Bagan in 2009. Bhaichung also had an altercation with former India coach Syed Nayeemuddin and contemplated retirement but the arrival of Bob Houghton prolonged his international career.
• The former Indian captain started the Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools in New Delhi on October 28 2010. It was opened in association with Portuguese academy Football, run by former Man United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz.
• He played his farewell match for the India national team on January 10, 2012 against Bayern Munich. The German club presented him a special ‘number 15’ Bayern jersey with the signature of the entire Bayern squad on it.
• He finished his international career with 107 caps and 43 goals. He scored in his 100th appearance also which came in a 2-1 win over Kyrgyzstan in 2009 Nehru Cup.
• Bhaichung now has his own football club as he co-owns United Sikkim, which was officially launched in March 2011. United Sikkim are currently playing in the I-League and Bhaichung is also registered as a player there. He was also their interim coach until the appointment of young Australian Nathan Hall.
• He was instrumental in the foundation of the Football Players Association of India (FPAI) in June 2006 and remains its president.
• In 2008, he refused to run with the Beijing Olympics torch in India to show support for the independence movement of Tibet.
• Regarded as the Indian football icon, Bhaichung is a demi god in his own state with the Sikkim government even building ‘The Bhaichung Bhutia Stadium’ in Namchi.
• Bhaichung has a pre-match superstition of tying the left bootlaces first. He has followed that ritual for a long time in his career.
• He has worked as television pundit during several major international competitions aired to the audience of the sub-continent with his first big appearance coming during the coverage of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
• He is currently the chairman of AIFF’s technical committee and the only Asian in the FIFPro technical committee