Flying in the face of the socialist pragmatism of that era, an Indian coach in the 1960s left the cushion of a government job to become a full time professional. There was little money in football at the time and even the top stars being chased by multiple clubs never quit the security offered by holding a job in the public sector. Even today, most Indian sportspersons knock on the doors of public officials for these jobs knowing very well that the sporting dream could die any time.
It was a maverick move, one of many in the career of Amal Dutta. India’s first professional coach, he had earned his coaching badges with the Football Association (FA) in England before returning to India to put his ideas into practice.
Opportunities were hard to come by and even though he had already briefly managed East Bengal for a couple of seasons, he needed to take the less-travelled path in Orissa and Kerala to build a reputation. Money was hard to come by and he would even show tapes of international football to kids in his neighbourhood for money to augment his income.
It was at Mohun Bagan in 1969 that he finally made a name for himself. Indian clubs had been playing the 3-2-5 formation for years but he introduced the 4-2-4 for the first time in the country. Bhawani Roy and Altaf Ahmed became the first full backs in Indian football. It was a move that was not well received within the club initially, with legend Sailen Manna mistrustful of a system in which defenders became attackers. It took time for people to accept his methods, but they came around eventually.
He soon found himself with out a job though in a pattern that repeated right until the 2000s. He would come to have multiple stints with both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and brief ones with Mohammedan Sporting and other clubs, but an anti-establishment tag dogged him throughout his career and he went through periods without a team.
Often called in to fix an ailing team, he would introduce systems that were in vogue elsewhere. In a typically short stint with the national team as the technical director in 1987, he introduced the 4-4-2 to Indian football. In another innovation, he would get Mohun Bagan to play with a midfield diamond in 1997.
Though he won 39 major trophies in his career, he would often come out second best in his duels with P.K. Banerjee. Throughout the 80s and 90s, these two would do battle as rivals in the manner of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho in recent years. In the big games, Banerjee would find a way to best Dutta, and he sometimes unfairly got tagged as the manager who preferred tactics to results.
He breathed football however and his name is consistently mentioned in the list of greatest Indian coaches. His biggest contribution was in constantly challenging the established order and introducing innovations that Indian football had made a habit of avoiding. His contribution to the evolution of the modern Indian coach should not be underestimated, like the man himself was in years gone by.