Sunil Chhetri recently joined Sporting Lisbon and his transfer has raised some arguments that he is indeed the greatest footballer India has ever seen. A few years back Baichung Bhutia was asked a similar question, “ who was the best player you played with?” his answer included Chhetri but he added that Chhetri had the skill and pace but he does not have the physique to be a forward and I.M.Vijayan was a complete forward.
Vijayan: the player, the coach, the actor, the politician, the legend, you can’t describe him in one word. Raised in poverty from an young age, Vijayan used to sell soda bottles that earned him just 10 paisa for one bottle. The man who saw football as his life and soul, was found on the streets of Trissur by the former Kerala DGP M.K Joseph.
Vijayan was given a chance to play for the Kerala police club at the age of seventeen. His ability to cash in on any opportunity put in front of him, along with his physique and skill made him an instant hit in domestic football. And along came the national cap. Vijayan made his Indian debut in 1989, and went on to play for India in various competitions. With Bhutia by his side he formed an attack that was one of the deadliest in Asia. During his successful national career, his domestic career took a hit as his transfer from Kerala to Mohan Bagan made him a villain in the eyes of Keralites. The people in Bengal welcomed him with open arms and soon he became their “darling Bijoyan”.
After his spell at Bengal he returned to Kerala only this time to the cheers of keralaties. He went on to play for many clubs like East Bengal, Churchill Brothers and JCT. He registered his name in the history books by scoring a goal in 12 seconds against Bhutan in the 1999 SAF games, a competition that India went onto win. His talent attracted interest from clubs all over Asia though Vijayan spent his entire career in India.
The end of his playing career opened new doors for the star. He went on to act in a national award winning film “Kalo Harin” for which critics showered him with praises. He continued his film career for some time before he tried his hand at politics. But Vijayan was not ready to give up the game, he opened a football school in his home town and worked as coach for some clubs.
He once said, “I don’t know how much goals I had scored till date.”
He’s been there, done that and still he remains a humble footballer, who hasn’t forgotten his roots. The journey from a soda bottle seller to becoming a legend was not easy, but it’s his passion and hard work that made him come over the hurdles. And he’s still out there trying to contribute to the nation and find the next Vijayan. He is the answer for those who think Chhetri is India’s best player ever.
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