Bhaichung Bhutia is an Indian football player
: seemingly an oxymoron
before he entered the game
and gave India's footballers a mass
. Firstly, he's not a stunning
football player - the attention he gets comes from his nationality and his move to the English football team
. Built like a tank
, he created a mini media
frenzy when he joined the team
. Previously he played for East Bengal
) and was one of their best players: a prolific goal
Bhutia is orignally from Sikkim - in particular, a North-Eastern village of Tintikam in Sikkim, where in order to get a game of football he would have to catch an early train from Siliguri to Calcutta (the location of India's Salt Lake City stadium). He's come a long way since then.
Nicknamed "Chip," Bhutia was made the captain of the Indian national team some years ago, although it's safe to say the competition wasn't intense. The reason the media seized him, and went crazy writing articles about him was something that happened in 1999.
At the age of 25, he joined Bury in September 1999 on a free transfer. Although Bury were in the Second Division at the time, he became the first high-profile player from India to move to England. He had previously had trials with the Premiership side Aston Villa, and his move was sudden and unexpected.
The cynics suggested that Bhutia had only been signed to boost Asian attendances at games, and the cynics were probably right, since Bhutia, although a good player, did not match up to the high standard of domestic players. He was short, stock and strong: attributes more commonly associated with rugby players.
The move was in many respects excellent for his career, in terms of the publicity he received, although he lost the fans' attention: in India, he used to play in the Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta (in East Bengal) - the capacity of that was a mind-boggling 140,000. The capacity of Bury's ground was around 3,000.
Bhutia: "I'd never heard of Bury, and they weren't even in the picture when I came over from India to trial with some English clubs. My agent spoke to somebody who knew Bury's manager at that time, Neil Warnock, and a trial was arranged for me. I did very well, scored a couple of good goals and eventually signed a three year contract."
When he first arrived, Bhutia was pretty much a failure - he didn't score for sometime, and he was not used to the physical, often very fast nature of football in England. Playing in the Second Division made things slightly worse, as there was less oppurtunity to use his skill.
The first few months were a huge learning process for Bhaichung as he struggled to adapt to the physical nature of Second Division football. But his willingness to respond positively to the challenge before him impressed the coaching staff at Bury. A minor setback for Butia was when Neil Warnock, the English coach who signed him, left the club soon after he joined.
Bhutia: "Neil had certain plans for me where I could fit into his game plan `because he had seen my game'. After he left it became quite difficult for me because the new coach and manager was a striker himself. Andy Preece, who being new wanted to prove his mettle and therefore filled the team with the best of players.
Obviously he couldn't take a risk by playing me because I am in a position where I am still catching up with their standards. Preece needed instant results. Yet he gave me a chance and I took it quite well."
In my opinion, Bury were quite brave to risk an untested player out especially considering that their league position was fairly poor, and the fans were demanding results. His fitness when he joined wasn't up to scratch and he wasn't really suited to the English game. Kevin Blackwell was a Bury coach when Bhutia joined, and here's a quote from his coach: "Despite being a hero in India, he was very willing to learn and would do the work when he had to. The game over here is ten times more physical than in India and he had to adjust to it. We knew that we would have to invest at least six to eight months in him before he would be up to speed. But he never moaned despite the hard work." After a while, Bhutia managed to get into the team and the fans began to take to him. He was an exciting player to watch, because he was very attack-focused and liked to dribble with the ball as much as possible.
His first goal in England came against Chesterfield in April 2000: the final result was a draw, and after the match he said, "I can't really describe how it felt but I was so delighted." The next season, however, Bhutia had a series of injuries that hampered his performances and limited his starts for the first team.
Bhutia: "As the first Indian to play in the English football league I hope that Bury have sent a message out to the Asian community in this country. There must be some great talent around and we hope we inspire some of them by showing that if they are good enough we'll give them a chance". In this respect, he has certainly succeeded although I think people are realising that he's an average player most of the time.
Another quote: "Everybody knew my fitness level was down though I was doing well at the training. So I did not get to play most of the season but I did get to play in the first team and got some goals."
Below are some interesting comments he made on the differences between the Indian game and the English game:
Bhutia: "Here if there is a game at 3 O'clock, we sit with the coach just half an hour earlier and discuss things without any idea of what game you are going to play. Whereas out there (in England) you know three days before which team you are going to play with, study their system/style and train on that.
Besides, when you play a game you are given a job. It's not like in India where I play a game without knowing what I am doing. I am only driven by the need to score a goal. There you need to score goals but apart from that you are given a job that of being part of a whole team movement.
Then in India when a defence gets a ball, he kicks very long with the strikers having no idea which side the ball is coming. In UK, everybody, including the goal keeper knows which side the defence is kicking the ball as it is part of the training.
It's automatic. When one gets a ball and kicks it towards a particular direction, strikers move into open space and midfielders close the gap."
Watching Indian football you get the idea that the game is not very tactical and a touch random at times, so Bhutia's comments are true: I haven't seen many Indian football matches, but they're not extremely stylish.
"It's a big change. Playing such as clubs as Manchester United and Leeds are invaluable experiences because you are playing with some of the top international players and you get a feel of European standards.
It's difficult to come out separately and train, Then it's even difficult to get into the substitute bench. I needed to train with the team members of my club.
I needed to play 20 minutes, I needed to come in line and I needed to again improve.
Whenever I got the chance I had to work out in the gym on my own.
I was even punished once for wanting to drink water because practice time was up. The dehydration could have actually killed me."
If anyone knows the current state of Bhutia's career, then msg me.