Game in India is moving in the right direction'

Baichung Bhutia chose to make a graceful exit from football on an emotional note, saying that he had “no regrets” about anything to do with the game.

Announcing his retirement from international football, Bhutia said here on Wednesday that he would continue to play for his club (Sikkim United) and share his experience with youngsters.

Present on the occasion were Bhutia's first captain, Tanumoy Bose, JCT coach Sukhwinder Singh and “close friend” Renedy Singh.

Having scored 42 goals in 107 international appearances spread over 16 years, Bhutia enjoyed respect and admiration of his colleagues and fans.

The decision to retire was prompted by constant injuries in the past year. He was picked for the upcoming tour of England, but a calf-muscle injury has grounded him.

“It has been quite a frustrating nine months. In life, sometimes you don't get what you want. I couldn't play the World Cup but hope that I get to see India play at the highest level in my lifetime. It's sad I will not be playing for India, but then one can't keep playing.

“Personally, it was a great honour for me to have represented India,” said Bhutia.

Reflecting on his career, Bhutia said, “I enjoyed every bit of it. There were some difficult moments, but I have no complaints against anyone (coaches and administrators). I was lucky to have played alongside some great players.”

Looking ahead, Bhutia noted: “Indian football is moving in the right direction and needs support from all quarters. (Sunil) Chettri and Jeje (Lalpekhlua) are very good. But we need many more like them, some superstars.”

The veteran, who made his debut as a substitute in the 1995 Nehru Cup in Calcutta, did not agree that his exit would be a setback to the Indian team.

“Players come and go. We need better players than Baichung Bhutia. We have enough talent but need effective grassroots programmes and work on the infrastructure.”

Current lot more professional

Bhutia gave credit to the current generation of footballers. “In terms of talent, the era of (I.M.) Vijayan and (Jo Paul) Ancheri was better, but the current lot is more professional. I am convinced Vijayan could have played for any club in the world but the players in that era were not so professional. The current lot is more dedicated,” he said.

Assessing the domestic structure, Bhutia, 34, noted: “The level of competition has improved. The fact that players from Bengal are venturing out means there is competition. The challenge to clubs from Bengal is bigger now and that is good for the game in the country. The players have more options now.”

Asked about his most cherished moments, Bhutia said: “Qualifying for the Asia Cup was very special. The last three-four years were memorable. We played some good football and won tournaments.”

He was the most valuable player in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup held in Delhi.

What about the worst moments? “Every defeat. (They all) hurt.”

He also singled out the 6-1 defeat to Japan in the 2006 World Cup qualifier as the most forgettable moment of his playing career.

The All India Football Federation Secretary-General, Kushal Das, wished him well and promised to seek Bhutia's support and guidance in the development programmes at all levels.

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