Baichung Bhutia burst onto the football scene when he was 16 years old with East Bengal. Now at 25, he's not only the captain of the Indian national side, but is in his third year of service for Bury--a second division English football club.
However, for the prize of Sikkim, the road hasn't been an easy one. After doing extremely well in the pre-season matches, he injured his knee in only his second game of the season and has been laid up since then, undergoing his second knee operation in two weeks.
"I am going to be out for the next four months. I'm going to be back by the end of March. I'd love to get a few games in April and May...that would be really good," said Baichung.
Many feel that Baichung has been instrumental in infusing a new confidence and an aggressive style of play in the Indian squad, which could be seen in the creditable performance both in the world cup qualifiers and the tour of England.
But what India lacks most is the necessary infrastructure. "When I played in Europe with Division II, I saw the facilities there were just amazing. When I came back, I realized that it is very important to get that infrastructure right because the kids here have talent," added Bhutia.
As his stint with Bury is coming to an end, one regret that he will always have is not scoring against Manchester United. "I think it was fantastic playing alongside Andy Cole. All the players were international players in the united team. The good thing was that I was playing well. That was my best match in the UK. I should have scored a goal, but I hit the crossbar. I scored one goal, but it was ruled as an offside," said Bhutia with a certain degree of dismay.
With Indian stars emerging at the international level in games other than cricket, like weightlifting, tennis and soccer, it's high time that the government and sponsors pick talent to celebrate all spheres of sports in the country.