As the Indian Football fraternity still weeps over the passing away of Padma Shri Pradip Kumar Banerjee, one of his favourite disciples– another Padma Shri – Bhaichung Bhutia recollects memories of playing under PK-da, branding him as the “Guardian Angel of Indian Football.”
March 20, 2020 will remain one of the saddest day in Indian Football. We lost one of the greatest exponents of our game. I will miss Pradip Kumar Banerjee a lot. The world may remember him as one of the greatest footballers from India, but to me he will always remain my own PK-da. I will always remember him as a happy man, an intellectual, and the ‘Guardian Angel of Indian Football.’
What I felt was truly great about the man was that he was not only a good player and a coach, but also a great human being. Off the pitch, he would always give us guidance on how to conduct ourselves. He taught us how to stay humble even when you get all the media attention that comes with playing at the top level at the Kolkata Maidan.
He would teach us life lessons, and tell us about things beyond football. He was more of a guardian angel than a coach for us. And all of that helped us become better, and more dedicated footballer and better human beings as well.
I have played under the stewardship of a number of top coaches during my career. But the coaches in the early part of your career are the ones that really end up shaping you as a professional football player. PK-da had just that effect on me.
Back in the 90s when I was young, there was no bigger name in Indian Football than PK Banerjee, to learn from. Playing in a traditional club like East Bengal, we were already expected to have a certain level of technical ability.
But not everyone and everyone was aware of how to use that ability to your advantage, and how to synchronise that with the rest of your teammates and execute the strategies on the pitch. All of that was taught by us by PK-da.
Having been part of India’s golden generation, and a great footballer himself, he Banerjee knew how to cope with the pressure of playing at a big club. That was something which he taught me. I was lucky to have learnt at a very early stage in my career for which I will always remain thankful to him.
One particular instance I clearly recall was the 1997 Federation Cup semi-final between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan at the Salt Lake Stadium. There was a lot of hype around the match, a lot was said in the media in the build-up to that game.
However, PK-da in his inimitable way took the pressure off our shoulders. “You must realise, that splaying in front of a one lakh thirty thousand odd crowd. As a youngster it wasn’t easy. But he shielded us all from that pressure. He allowed us a clear mind on the day, as in all matches.