New Delhi, Feb 26 (IANS) As four teams prepare to take to Riyadh for the semi-finals of the 76th National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy, one serial winner of that trophy will be keenly watching from home.
Manas Bhattacharya was a reputed winger in the 1970s and 1980s, who won many laurels while playing for Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting. Apart from serving the National Team with distinction during his career, he also holds a unique distinction that very few in Indian football could match until now.
Bhattacharya has six winners’ medals in his cupboard from the Santosh Trophy, part of an elite club with only half a dozen members. He thinks no football tournament in
India attracts so much passion from both footballers and spectators, and all efforts should be made to elevate the Santosh Trophy to the number one position in India.
While looking forward to the Hero Santosh Trophy semi-finals and finals which begin on March 1 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Bhattacharya also expressed sadness that his home state would not be there.
“I am extremely happy that the Federation has taken such a step to take the Santosh Trophy outside India. It will do a world of good to the tournament. At the same time, I am sad that Bengal, for whom I once won six titles in seven attempts, will not be there in Riyadh since they could not perform well in the group stages in Bhubaneswar.
“But then, I am an eternal optimist. Bengal, I am sure, will prepare well to come back stronger next year,” Bhattacharya said.
Once famous for his down-the-right runs that stretched every defence in the country, Bhattacharya believes taking the Santosh Trophy outside India is an innovative idea that will add a new twist to Indian football.
“Kalyan (Kalyan Chaubey, the AIFF President) has taken a bold step. It will attract more youngsters to the Santosh Trophy. Every young footballer will now aspire to play for the state and get an opportunity to play in big stadiums like the one in King Fahd International in Riyadh,” he said.
“I have been informed that the federation has drastically improved the facilities attached to the Santosh Trophy. Players now travel comfortably and stay in good facilities. It is a welcome move, it should have been done a long time ago. Well, better late than never,” Bhattacharya commented.
The Mohun Bagan legend pointed out that the Santosh Trophy’s biggest advantage is that only Indian footballers are allowed to participate.
“It is one meet where foreigners are not taking away the limelight. Here we have the chance to spot some skillful Indian strikers or central defenders. These boys should be handled carefully and given the right opportunities, so that they can mature into quality players for the bigger stage,” Bhattacharya said.
“Let me tell you one thing, no other tournament invokes as much passion as the Santosh Trophy. The call to make your own state the best in the country is something so exciting that it can’t be bought with money and lucrative contracts. That the federation is doing so much to ignite passion is an intelligent move. However much you talk about professionalism, football, at the end of the day, is all about the passion involved. What you do now for the state, will be reflected when you go for National Team duty. I will surely be watching the Santosh Trophy matches in Riyadh with great interest,” the 67-year-old said.