Pradip Kumar Banerjee wore his greatness lightly and he inculcated that attribute in his pupils, according to former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia, who called him the “Guardian Angel” of Indian football.
The former India player died in Kolkata on Friday after battling prolonged illness at the age of 83. Tributes poured in from all quarters after the announcement of his death.
Bhutia, one of Banerjee’s brightest disciples, recalled the days he learned under his tutelage.
“What I felt truly great about the man was that he was not only a good player and a coach, but also a great human being,” Bhutia wrote in a column for the AIFF.
“Off the pitch, he would always give us guidance on how to conduct ourselves. He taught us how to stay humble even when you get all the media attention that comes with playing at the top level at the Kolkata Maidan.”
During his coaching days, the teachings of PK Banerjee went beyond football.
“He would teach us life lessons, and tell us about things beyond football. He was more of a guardian angel than a coach for us. And all of that helped us become better, and more dedicated footballer and better human beings as well,” Bhutia wrote.
He recalled memories of his playing days under Banerjee, especially the famous 1997 Federation Cup derby between traditional rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.
“One particular instance I clearly recall was the 1997 Federation Cup semi-final between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan at the Salt Lake Stadium. There was a lot of hype around the match, a lot was said in the media in the build-up to that game.
“However, PK-da in his inimitable way took the pressure off our shoulders. You must realise, that playing in front of a one lakh thirty thousand odd crowd. As a youngster it wasn’t easy. But he shielded us all from that pressure. He allowed us a clear mind on the day, as in all matches.”
Pumped up by Banerjee’s motivating words, Bhaichung went on to score a hat-trick in that game and lead East Bengal to a memorable 4-1 win.
Bhutia noted that Banerjee as coach had the ability to get the best out of his players.
“I have played under the stewardship of a number of top coaches during my career. But the coaches in the early part of your career are the ones that really end up shaping you as a professional football player. PK-da had just that effect on me.
“Back in the 90s, when I was young, there was no bigger name in Indian football than PK Banerjee, to learn from. Playing in a traditional club like East Bengal, we were already expected to have a certain level of technical ability.
“But not everyone was aware of how to use that ability to your advantage, and how to synchronise that with the rest of your teammates and execute the strategies on the pitch. All of that were taught to us by PK-da.”
The 1962 Asian Games gold-medallist, whose best days as a striker coincided with Indian football’s golden era, was suffering from respiratory problems due to pneumonia.
“The world may remember him as one of the greatest footballers from India but, to me, he will always remain my own PK-da. I will always remember him as a happy man, an intellectual, and the Guardian Angel of Indian football,” Bhutia said.