Having achieved the rare milestone of playing 100 international matches, Indian football captain Baichung Bhutia said he wanted to see more players replicate his feat.

Bhutia said India was not playing enough international matches which affected the team’s progress and ranking.

“I have seen many young players leaving football and settling down with a job. Players are important for the development of the game and should be encouraged,” Bhutia said at function organised here on Tuesday to felicitate him on the rare achievement of playing 100 international matches.

He was presented with a gold coin, a plaque and a cheque of Rs five lakh by All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel. Bhutia, accompanied by mother Dorji and wife Madhuri, cut a cake amidst cheering fans and mediapersons.

Wonderful journey

Recalling his early days as a professional footballer, Bhutia said, “It’s a long and wonderful journey, I remember when I started playing for East Bengal as a 16-year-old at a salary of Rs 4000. Things have changed a lot…I want to dedicate this evening to all my teammates in the last 16 years for supporting me throughout in my career.”

He thanked Chief Coach Bob Houghton who persuaded him not to retire and keep playing.

Bhutia said the National team should get enough support to do well.

Patel’s praise

Mr. Patel hailed Bhutia as the best icon in Indian football and said more icons were needed to popularise the sport. “He is one of the greatest footballers India has ever produced. Footballers like Bhutia encourage thousands of aspiring players,” said Mr. Patel.

He assured that AIFF would try to help the National team get more international exposure.

On the occasion, goalkeeper Subrata Pal received the Best Footballer of the Year 2009 award. He got a plaque and a cash reward of Rs five lakh.

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