When P.K. Banerjee's Mohun Bagan held New York Cosmos featuring Pele for a draw
- A trip down memory lane when the iconic P.K Banerjee coached Mohun Bagan to a 2-2 draw against New York Cosmos.
- A highlight of the remarkable career of the true global face of Indian football
The passing away of the legendary Pradip Kumar Banerjee has left the Indian football community in a state of mourning. He was indeed a rare icon who took Indian football to great heights both as a player and coach. Nobody can replace him.
Let us turn back the clock and revisit the day when Mohun Bagan, coached by Banerjee, held the much-fancied New York Cosmos side to a 2-2 draw in an exhibition match in 1977. None other than the great Brazilian Pele was a part of the Cosmos line up.
The exhibition match was played on 24 September 1977 at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Franz Beckenbauer, a towering figure in world football, was also supposed to represent New York Cosmos in the match. But the German missed out owing to an injury.
Banerjee showed a lot of faith in recruit Shyam Thapa.
Banerjee chose to prefer Shyam Thapa, who was at that time a new signing for the Green and Maroon brigade, in the starting eleven. Thapa is someone who prospered under the tutelage of Banerjee and evolved into one of the finest footballers India ever produced.
Following the demise of the legendary footballer, Thapa in a heartfelt tribute called Banerjee as his "Godfather."
"I have not played under such a great coach, a great human being, and someone who always used to bring the best out of you. I am Shyam Thapa because I had Pradip Kumar Banerjee to guide me . He was my Godfather", Thapa was quoted as saying in the media.
Thapa reposed the faith
The first goal of the match came in the seventeenth minute courtesy Carlos Alberto Torres of Cosmos. But Thapa struck in the very next minute to level the score. He certainly reposed the faith shown on him by the coach.
The Mohun Bagan side, which played the exhibition match, included celebrated Indian footballers like Goutam Sarkar, Pradip Chowdhury, and Subrata Bhattacharya. The Cosmos line-up was a start-studded one led by Torres.
It was indeed an occasion for the football-crazy fans of Kolkata as the "King of Football" Pele had set foot in Kolkata to play the match. As per reports, close to 75,000 people had witnessed the exhibition match.
The man who marked Pele
Pele created the chance for the Cosmos side to score the first goal courtesy, Torres. But the hosts somehow managed to restrict him from scoring one himself. A lot of the credit goes to Sarkar, who was assigned to mark the Brazilian legend in the match.
"Ask anyone who has played under him; they will echo me. I have never seen someone who can inspire players like him. Vocal tonic is an art, and he had mastered it', said Sarkar as a tribute to the departed soul.
The hosts found the lead before the half time thanks to a coordinated effort from brothers Habib and Akbar. Akbar scored the goal from a long-range, which meant the visitors were pushed to the back foot.
The party got spoiled
It did appear at one point in the match that the hosts would have the last laugh, but a controversial penalty was awarded to New York Cosmos in the second half.
Changalia, who took the spot-kick, made no mistake in outsmarting the Mohun Bagan goal-keeper Biswajit Das. It was indeed a historic match that saw the Indian club pose a severe challenge to a much-fancied team that featured some stalwarts of world football.
Bhattacharya, who captained Mohun Bagan, credited Banerjee for inspiring the team to achieve the impossible. "He taught us what no one ever could. As a player and coach, Pradip da's contribution to Indian football can never be matched", Bhattacharya said.
Truly the international face of Indian football
Banerjee was the coach of the Indian team that won Bronze in the Asian Games of 1970. East Bengal won the CFL five times under his stewardship. He also helped Mohun Bagan to win the title as a coach in 1976.
As a player, he was phenomenal. He scored a total of 65 goals in his career. He played 36 official matches for India that saw score 19 goals. He was also a much-respected commentator.
He was the first Indian footballer to receive the Arjuna Award in 1961. He was also conferred with the Padma Shri in 1990. FIFA bestowed upon him the Centennial Order of Merit in 2004. He was the global face of Indian football.Published 22 Mar 2020, 09:51 IST