P.K. Banerjee

Didier Deschamps could be breathing extremely rarified air this Sunday if he emulates Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer as the only people to have won the World Cup both as a player and manager. To reach the pinnacle of footballing success in the capacity of player or coach is hard enough, but to do it in both roles, years apart, is a truly staggering achievement. Player turned managers who are also successful are an elite bunch in football and Deschamps would find himself joining others like Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola in recent years who have carved out a niche for themselves. 

India has had great footballers and great managers but only one person meets both criteria. It is perhaps fitting that he won FIFA’s Centennial Order Of Merit in 2004, the highest honour awarded by the game’s governing body, in the same year it was also given to Beckenbauer for a second time. Pradip Kumar Banerjee is the only Indian or Asian player to have ever received the award, which probably lets him claim the title of India’s greatest ever footballer. 

Popularly known as PK, he was a prodigy who broke into Bihar’s Santosh Trophy team at the age of 15. By 19, he was playing for India. Belying his tender years, he played a crucial role in the team’s performance at the 1956 Olympics and was captain by the time Rome came around in 1960. Chuni Goswami, Tulsi Balaram and him formed India’s best ever forward line and they combined to deliver on the 1962 Asian Games gold medal. Blessed with pace and a powerful shot, he would make the right wing slot his own for more than a decade in national colours. 

After retirement, he would take to coaching and would guide India to a bronze medal at the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok. While his official designation was that of manager, he combined with G.M.H Basha to turn around India’s fortunes at a tournament no one gave them a chance at. For three decades hence, he would coach East Bengal, Mohun Bagan or the national team winning accolades by the bucketful. His rivalry with Amal Dutta was legendary, with the two of them dominating Kolkata football for two decades. 

An Arjuna Award recipient in its very first year in 1961, he would also be conferred with the prestigious Padma Shri award in 1990. When the FIFA award was announced, it came as no surprise since he had served Indian football in every conceivable capacity, also having coached age-group teams and served as Technical Director of the Tata Football Academy. 

In 2004, just when you thought he had hung up his boots once and for all, there he was, accompanying the India U-16 side to Leicester in England at the grand old age of 68. As someone who has always been vocal with his views, he still has his opinions about football in the country. He may be 82 years old but there is no stopping Mr. Indian Football yet. 

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