Parth Shah (Sportz Interactive), Jan 10, 2012

Farewell Bai - Every end is a beginning

It’s finally here.10th Jan 2012. Baichung Bhutia, arguably India’s most gifted and successful footballer, will walk on to the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Delhi for the last time. And he will be pitted against a worthy opponent in the form of the Bavarian giants, Bayern Munich.

But today, it’s all about Bai. He has been a shining beacon and an inspiration to aspiring Indians. And he was a man of firsts. The youngest goalscorer for India, the first Indian Footballer to play in Europe, the first to score a hat-trick in the Kolkata Derby and the first Indian footballer to reach 100 caps. The cherubic kid has undergone many transformations and weathered many storms. And today he can proudly call himself a LEGEND. He has earned it.

Someone once said that the true mark of a great player is the generations he inspires through his words and actions. And that could not be truer with Bhutia. It's no surprise that he has inspired the likes of Chhetri and Jeje to carry on his legacy. And who knows, they might end up doing what Bhutia couldn't. - Play in the creme-de-la-creme of European Competitions.

Baichung Bhutia - Footballer, Patriot, Legend.
© AP Images

He will hang up his boots after tonight's match, but that will not be the end of his contributions to Indian football. It will be the start of another Bhutia era, as he strives to improve grassroots football in India. So, it isn't time yet to say goodbye to the man, but a time to express our gratitude.

Thank you Baichung for the wonderful memories. There will not be another Bhutia quite as good as you, but you have inspired many a Chettri's and Jeje's to build on your solid foundation.

Career Flashback - International

1995 Nehru Cup - International Debut vs Uzbekistan. Became Youngest goalscorer for India at 19

1997 SAFF Championship - India 5-1 Maldives. Bhutia scores a beauty as India win the competition

1999 SAFF Championship - Bhutia scores in the final against Bangladesh as India successfully defend their title. Named as tournament’s MVP (Most Valuable Player)

2002 LG Cup - Scored 2 goals in the final as India beat hosts Vietnam 3-2 to win the LG Cup.

2003 Afro-Asian Games - India finish runners-up to Uzbekistan. Bhutia scored 2 goals in the 5-3 semifinal win over Zimbabwe.

2005 SAFF Championship - Bhutia leads his side to yet another SAFF Championship, this time as captain. Named MVP and also received the Fair Play trophy

2007 Nehru Cup - Played a significant part in the build-up to the only goal of the final as India beat Syria to lift the trophy.

2008 AFC Challenge Cup - Scored one goal in the final to complement Sunil Chhetri’s hattrick as India won the cup and qualified for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Named MVP of the tournament again, as his 3 goals helped India to yet another trophy.

2009 Nehru Cup - Becomes 1st Indian footballer to reach the 100 Caps milestone. Adjudged Player of the Tournament.

2011 AFC Asian Cup - Injured for most part of the tournament. Came on as a second half substitute in the 4-1 loss against South Korea. Announced his retirement shortly after, finishing with a record 43 goals in 107 matches for India.

Domestic and Club honours

The Sikkim Sniper strikes again
© AP Images

1993 - Drops out of school to join East Bengal

1995 – Moves to JCT Mills and wins the National Football League. Bhutia finished as the top scorer in the league and was named “1996 Indian Player of the year”.

1997- Returns to East Bengal. Scored a hat-trick in the Fed Cup semi-final in the Kolkata Derby against Mohun Bagan

1998-99 – Becomes club captain at age 23. Receives Arjuna Award for “outstanding achievements” in football.

September 1999 – Sings with Bury FC for a 3-year deal, thereby becoming the first Indian Footballer to play professionally in Europe.

April 2000 - Scores his first League goal against Chesterfield. A recurring knee injury restricted him to only 3 games in his final season at Bury.

2002 - Joins Mohun Bagan. Early-season injury rules him out or the season.

August 2003 - October 2003 – Joins Malaysian Championship club Perak FA on loan.

2003-04 season – Rejoins East Bengal and scores 12 goals as East Bengal win the National League.

2005-06 season – Awarded “Player of the National Football League” by AIFF.

June 2006 – Rejoins Mohun Bagan and forms an exciting partnership with Jose Ramirez Barreto

2007-08 season – In the newly formed I-League, Bhutia scores 10 goals in 18 matches. Wins Indian Player of the year Award for the second time. Joined I.M. Vijayan as the only players to win the award twice.

May 2009 - Bhutia announces his decision to quit Mohun Bagan, due to the questioning of his footballing commitment by the club's officials. Suspended for six months by Mohun Bagan as a result of the Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa incident. Bhutia was quoted saying "It is just a ploy to keep me at Mohun Bagan for another season. But I will not play for them any more."

June 2009 – Rejoins East Bengal on a 1-year deal and goes on to declare , “This is really my homecoming. This is the club from where it all started and it is here where it is going to end."

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