Indian football icon Baichung Bhutia has announced his retirement from international football. The “Sikkimese Sniper” has decided to let the curtains fall after facing difficulties to regain fitness from a recurrent calf muscle injury.
Bhutia was called up to the India camp for the upcoming “Clash of the Titans – India vs Pakistan UK Tour 2011”, but he couldn’t train properly with the squad due to his persistent injury. Therefore he decided to take a decision on his career and came to the conclusion that this would be right time to finally retire from international football.
The 34-year old striker had an extraordinary career with the Indian national football team and is rated as one of the best – maybe even the best – footballer the country has ever seen. Baichung led the Indian national team as a captain for more than a decade.
Baichung made his senior international debut in the Nehru Cup against Thailand at the age of 19 in 1995. India played Uzbekistan a few days later and Baichung Bhutia scored to become the youngest goals scorer ever for the Indian national team. The talismanic star skipper earned 110 senior international caps, while scoring 43 goals.
Baichung almost retired from international football in 2006, but he was convinced to continue by former India coach Bob Houghton. And he delivered what Houghton expected from him. Baichung led the Indian team to two Nehru Cup victories and the AFC Challenge Cup 2008, which secured India a berth in the AFC Asian Cup 2011.
The AFC Asian Cup 2011 was planned to be Baichung’s farewell tournament, but the calf muscle injury forced him to sit on the bench for almost the complete tournament. The legendary #15 of Indian football was brought on for the last 15 minutes of India’s final group stage match against Korea Republic. He decided not to retire after the tournament as he felt he should step back on a positive note.
But things didn’t change much in the recent months and Baichung has made his mind to bring it to an end. Baichung will continue his club football with 2nd Division I-League club United Sikkim FC.
Baichung’s annoucement has been received with regret not only in India, but also globally. Football fans in neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have also expressed their regret on Baichung’s decision.
A living legend of Indian football says “goodbye” to international football – and the Indian football fraternity says “Thank You Baichung!”
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