On the occasion of India’s 67th Independence Day, Sportskeeda decided to honour the greats of Indian football, both past and present, by forming a ‘Greatest Indian Football XI of all time’.
From its golden generation in the 1950s and 60s to the Nehru Cup triumph in 2012, Indian football has seen many luminaries, which made selecting a team of 11 a tough task. However, after an exhaustive process, a unanimous decision was reached on the composition of this dream team.
How the players were selected
The exercise was simple enough. We asked a panel of select football experts around the country to pick their greatest Indian all-time XI, along with a coach who they thought made the biggest contribution to Indian football in its history. After accumulating their votes, we came up with our own Indian dream team.
You can find the list of panelists at the bottom of the article, along with the teams they picked.
The Selected All Time XI
Total votes received
Jarnail Singh (15), Sailen Manna (8), Arun Ghosh (7), Sudhir Karmakar (6), Mahesh Gawli (5), Deepak Mondal (4), Manoranjan Bhattacharya (3), Gostho Paul (2), S Azizuddin (2), T Abdul Rehman (2), Aloke Mukherjee (2), Syed Rahim Nabi (2), Syed Nayeemuddin (1), Gouramangi Singh (1), Surkumar Singh (1)
Chuni Goswami (15), Tulsidas Balaram (10), Mariappa Kempaiah (5), Yousuf Khan (5), Ahmed Khan (3), Mohammed Salim (3), Noor Mohammed (3), Krishanu Dey (3), Renedy Singh (3), Jo-Paul Ancheri (3), Sudip Chatterjee (2), Prasanta Sinha (1), Prasun Banerjee (1), Prasanta Banerjee (1), Shibdas Bhadhuri (1), Mohammed Habib (1), Jules Alberto (1), Climax Lawrence (1), Steven Dias (1)
PK Banerjee (14), IM Vijayan (13), Bhaichung Bhutia (8), Neville D’Souza (3), S Raman (1)
SA Rahim (11), Amal Datta (3), Bob Houghton (3)
A member of India’s golden generation in the late ’50s and the early ’60s, Thangaraj was adjudged Asia’s best goalkeeper in 1958. Thangaraj was 6 feet 4 inches tall, and thus had an immense presence, with excellent reflexes too. IFFHS selected him as India’s goalkeeper of the century, and he was placed fifth in the ‘Asian Goalkeeper of the Century’ category in 2000.
The legendary defender was highly respected by teammates and opponents for his bravery and determination. A good header of the ball and an excellent tackler, Jarnail famously rattled Malaysia’s Abdul Gani, known as the ‘Asian Puskas’, in the 1961 Merdeka Cup. His other unforgettable moment was a headed goal as the side’s centre forward in the 1962 Asian Games final despite having six stitches on his head.
Manna was India’s captain when they won their first Asian Games gold in 1951. Although a defender, Manna was respected for his fair play as he hardly fouled opposition players, and was also known for his powerful freekicks despite playing barefoot. The Padma Shri awardee was a real gentleman on and off the field, and was named among the ten best captains of the world in the English FA’s 1953 yearbook.
Known for his excellent anticipation and leadership qualities, Ghosh was another important member of the Indian team in the late 1950s and early ’60s. His best contribution possibly came in the 1962 Asian Games when he almost single-handedly held the defence together in the absence of the injured Jarnail Singh. The Arjuna Award recipient was recently awarded the ‘Bharat Gourab’ by East Bengal.
Mohamed Yousuf Khan
Born in Andhra Pradesh, Yousuf Khan is considered one of the best all-round players in Indian football history. Khan, who passed away in 2006, was a key member of the famous Hyderabad City police team in the late ’50s and early ’60s. He was one of the two Indians to be selected in the 1965 Asian All Stars XI, and won the Arjuna Award in 1966.
Born in Bangalore, Mariappa Kempiah has been described by reputed Indian football historian Novy Kapadia as the fittest player of India’s golden generation. Kempiah was an expert at closing down opponents and winning back possession, something which would be very useful for this attack-minded all-star lineup. He was a key member of the India team that finished fourth in the 1956 Olympics.
India were blessed with quite a few great forwards during their golden generation, and Balaram was one of the best. The Secundarabad-born player’s biggest strengths were shooting and ball-control, but he also had plenty of variety in his game, as he could both create and score. He notably scored against Hungary in the 1960 Olympics and received the Arjuna Award in 1962.
Chuni Goswami (captain)
Padma Shri awardee Goswami led India to gold in the 1962 Asian Games and silver in the 1964 Asian Cup. The legendary goalscorer used to frighten defenders with his dribbling skills and his very own ‘360-turn’. Goswami reportedly rejected an offer to play for Tottenham Hotspur, and even excelled at cricket, captaining Bengal to two Ranji Trophy finals.
The first footballer to win the Arjuna Award in 1961, PK Banerjee had an excellent goalscoring record despite playing on the right wing. His important goals for India include the strike in the 1-1 draw against France in the 1960 Olympics and the opener in the 1962 Asian Games final. Banerjee repeatedly refused offers from big clubs to remain at Eastern Railway throughout his career, and was highly successful as a coach as well.
This team has no dearth of technical quality, but very few would possibly be able to match the skill that this forward from Kerala possessed. Blessed with pace and a great physique, Vijayan was by far India’s best player in the ’90s. The three-time AIFF Player of the Year was not only a great goalscorer but also a scorer of great goals, and holds the distinction of netting India’s fastest goal in international football.
Bhutia showed promise from an early age, and lived up to those expectations by becoming the first footballer from independent India to ply his trade abroad. Bhutia is India’s record goalscorer and is the only footballer to be awarded the Padma Shri while still playing. But its his impact off the pitch that will possibly be never matched by any other footballer from the country, as he is still regarded as the nation’s football icon.
Coach – SA Rahim
India’s success in the 1950s and ’60s was because of the golden generation of players that they possessed. But one man made it all tick, and that man was coach Syed Abdul Rahim. Better known as ‘Rahim Saab’, the Hyderabadi was a great motivator and always keen on bringing tactical innovations to his sides. Inspired by great Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman’s W-M system, Rahim’s most-used formation was a 3-2-5, and that is what we have used for the greatest Indian XI.
List of panelists and their selected XIs
Abhishek Ganguly (Senior Correspondent, Times of India) -
Sandip Nandy, Surkumar Singh, Deepak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli, Syed Rahim Nabi, Rennedy Singh, Jules Alberto, Joe Paul Ancheri, Basudeb Mondal, IM Vijayan, Baichung Bhutia, Coach: Amal Dutta
Abhishek Sengupta (Former Radio newscaster and Dubai-based journalist; ex-Times of India and Ten Sports) -
Peter Thangaraj, Syed Nayeemuddin,Jarnail Singh, Goshtho Paul, Sailen Manna, Pradip Banerjee, Tulsidas Balaram, Chuni Goswami, Mohammed Salim, Bhaichung Bhutia, IM Vijayan, Coach: Bob Houghton
Aminul Islam (Doha-based Indian football journalist with columns on The Asian Age, The Indian Express, The Times of India) -
Bhaskar Ganguly, Syed Nayeemuddin, Jarnail Singh, Manoranjan Bhattacharya, Mahesh Gawli, Sudip Chatterjee, Tulsidas Balaram, Prasun Banerjee, Krishanu Dey; PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, IM Vijayan, Coach: Amal Datta
Aniket Mishra (Founder and Editor – The Barefoot Magazine) -
Subrata Pal, Jarnail Singh, Sailen Manna, Deepak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli, Krishanu Dey, Mohammed Abdul Salim, PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Baichung Bhutia, Neville D’Souza, Coach: Amal Dutta
Anilava Chatterjee (Senior Journalist and Founder – Xtra Time) -
Bhaskar Ganguly, Aloke Mukherjee, Jarnail Singh, Manoranjan Bhattacharya, Arun Ghosh, Sudip Chatterjee, Tulsidas Balaram, PK Banerjee, Ahmed Khan, Chuni Goswami, Bhaichung Bhutiia, Coach: SA Rahim
Arunava Chaudhuri (Founder of IndianFootball.com and blog ‘Arunava About Football’) -
Subrata Pal, Deepak Kumar Mondal, Mahesh Gawli, Gouramangi Singh, Syed Rahim Nabi, Steven Dias, Jo Paul Ancheri, Climax Lawrence, Renedy Singh, Baichung Bhutia, IM Vijayan, Coach: Bob Houghton
Chris Punnakkattu Daniel (Assistant Editor-in-Chief of IndianFootball.com, columnist at multiple other publications) -
Subrata Pal, Sailendra Nath Manna, Jarnail Singh, Deepak Kumar Mondal, Jo Paul Ancheri, Syed Rahim Nabi, Chuni Goswami, Potsangbam Renedy Singh, Bhaichung Bhutia, IM Vijayan, Neville Stephen D’Souza, Coach: Bob Houghton
Debayan Sen (Football commentator & winner of Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2010 for his documentary on 60 years of Indian football) -
Peter Thangaraj, Jarnail Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Sailen Manna, Mariappa Kempaiah, Yousuf Khan, Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Bhaichung Bhutia, Neville D’Souza, Tulsidas Balaram, Coach: SA Rahim
Dhiman Sarkar (Sports Editor – Kolkata, Hindustan Times) -
Peter Thangaraj, Jarnail Singh, Sailen Manna, Arun Ghosh, PK Banerjee, Tulsidas Balaram, Mohammed Habib, Ahmed Khan, Shibdas Bhaduri, Chuni Goswami, IM Vijayan, Coach: SA Rahim
Gautam Roy (Statistician and East Bengal media manager) -
Peter Thangaraj, Sudhir Karmakar, Jarnail Singh, Arun Ghosh, Yusuf Khan, Prasanta Banerjee, PK Banerjee, IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia, Chuni Goswami, Tulsidas Balaram, Coach: SA Rahim
Jaydeep Basu (Special Correspondent – The Telegraph, and author of ‘Stories from Indian Football’) -
Peter Thangaraj, Sudhir Karmakar, Jarnail Singh, Arun Ghosh, Azizuddin, Yusuf Khan, Sudeep Chatterjee, PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Tulsidas Balaram, IM Vijayan, Coach: SA Rahim
Marcus Mergulhao (Assistant Editor – Football, The Times of India) -
Brahmanand Shankwalkar, Sudhir Karmarkar, Jarnail Singh, Manoranjan Bhattacharya, Sailen Manna, PK Banerjee, M Kempiah, Yusuf Khan, Tulsidas Balaram, Chuni Goswami, IM Vijayan, Coach: SA Rahim
Munal Chattopadhyay (Special Correspondent, Aajkaal) -
Prodyut Borman, Sudhir Karmakar, Arun Ghosh, Jarnail Singh, T Abdul Rehman, M Kempaiah, Noor Mohammed, Prasanta Sinha, PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, IM Vijayan, Coach: SA Rahim
Novy Kapadia (Indian football historian, commentator and analyst for ESPN, Star Sports, Ten Sports among others, and columnist for The Asian Age, India Today, Economic Times, etc.) -
Peter Thangaraj, S. Azizuddin, Jarnail Singh, Sailen Manna, M. Kempaiah, Noor Mohammed, PK Banerjee, Tulsidas Balaram, Neville D’Souza, Chuni Goswami, S. Raman, Coach: SA Rahim
Partha Acharya (Senior Reporter, Xtra Time) -
Subrata Pal, Sailen Manna, Jarnail Singh, Ghosto Pal, Sudhir Karmakar, Mohammed Salim, Ahmed Khan, PK Banerjee, Krishanu Dey, IM Vijayan, Chuni Goswami, Coach: SA Rahim
Rupayan Bhattacharya (Sports Editor, Ei Samay) -
Peter Thangaraj, Sudhir Karmakar, Arun Ghosh, Jarnail Singh, Aloke Mukherjee, PK Banerjee, Yousuf Khan, Sudip Chatterjee, Chuni Goswami, Tulsidas Balaram, IM Vijayan, Coach: SA Rahim
Susmita Gangopadhyay (Senior Reporter, Uttar Banga Sangbad) -
Peter Thangaraj, Sudhir Karmakar, Arun Ghosh, Jarnail Singh, T Abdul Rahman, M Kempiah, Noor Mohammed, Yusuf Khan, PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, IM Vijayan, Coach: SA Rahim