Bhaichung Bhutia, or famously known as ‘Sikkimese Sniper’ is a well-known face in the game of football. He represented India in football internationally and wore the blue jersey for 16 years before retiring in 2011. The centre forward is well-known for piercing the net with his shots, hence the name Sikkimese Sniper.
In an exclusive interview with PHYSIOTIMES, the PADMA SHRI and ARJUNA AWARD recipient footballer tells about the journey of his career and the role of physiotherapy in the sport.
Q. How were you introduced to the sport?
When a kid, I just loved the game. Whenever I could, I used to play football with my friends – both in school and my neighbourhood. When I was 14, my uncle, Karma Bhutia, recognised my knack for the game and invited me to join the Boys Club in Gangtok, where he was the chief coach. Hence commenced my serious football training.
After that, I was trained in Sikkim’s Tashi Namgyal Academy before a stint at SAI Gangtok. I played and received the best player award in 1992 Subroto Cup, and was also noticed by Bhaskar Ganguly, a former Indian goalkeeper. And thus began my transition into professional football.
Q. What type of training did you undergo?
Back in the days when I started, things weren’t as good as now. There was always a lack of equipment and funds, even our coaches weren’t much experienced. So, in those days, I would say, I received a very amateur training. But things are much different now, football training has evolved for good.
Q. So, in your early days of training, what sort of injuries you did you face mostly?
When you are on the field, you are vulnerable to a lot of things. However, speaking of the injuries, I encountered muscle pull and muscle tear mostly.
Q. What role did Physiotherapy play in overcoming those injuries?
I guess I was introduced to physiotherapy around 30 years back when I began my first serious training for the game. Before that, because we weren’t aware that why or how the injuries happen, there were no ways to prevent them.
Things changed a lot when physiotherapy came into the picture. We learned ways to avoid and recover from injuries. In those days, however, the reasons for those injuries were not described to us. Physiotherapists back then were either unable to explain things, or they simply didn’t want to.
Learning and understanding are two different things. Treatments might be correct, but without proper explanations, it’s like mugging up the answers without understanding the questions.
If things were described to us, perhaps, we could have prevented a lot of injuries back then. It would have saved us a lot of time.
Q. Over years, do you feel the Sports Physiotherapy services have improved?
Yes, of course. Over the three decades, we have evolved a lot. But there is always a room for improvement. Also, if compared to our foreign counterparts, we still have a long way to go.
Q. What is your opinion about the scope of Sports Physiotherapy as of career?
It is huge. Given the fact that sports are gaining acceptability as a viable career, Sports Physiotherapists will always be in demand. Physiotherapy has huge potential. And I guess, its requirement is only going to go up.
Q. Is there anything you want to convey to the individuals pursuing Sports Physiotherapy?
In my opinion, a physiotherapist would be more efficient if he or she knows the game inside out. You can’t learn the dynamics of a sport by just memorizing the theory. Know your sport well before you start seeking a carrier in it. Be sporty. At times, play the game yourself.
Q. How do we make football a more household game as it is in western countries?
To make a game popular, we have to give results, and this applies to all the sports out there. In the game of football, India is already making big impacts by qualifying for international championships. People have now started recognising the thrill in this game. Still, a lot needs to be accomplished. Rome was not built in a day, after all.
Q. Please tell us about the football schools you have started. What’s your vision regarding that?
Being a veteran, I feel the need to recognize and promote young talents in the game. So, I started BBFS (Bhaichung Bhutia Football School) with a vision to refine their skills and provide them with a platform.
BBFS currently offers football coaching through 72 training centres across the country in 21 cities to 3200+ kids between the ages of 5 and 17. And…I plan to expand to other parts of the country as well.
I'm so privileged to be in a position to support these wonderful, talented young boys. I will continue to guide them with my best abilities.
Q. What according to you is a key requirement of being a good football player?
If your heart is in what you do, you excel in it. So, to be a good player, I think, you need to be in love with the game.
Q. You’re still fit like a teenager. What’s your secret? (Bhaichung Bhutiya is 43 years old!)
Just eat right and follow your exercise schedule strictly. And keep away from addictions. But I don’t suppose this is any secret.
Q. What do you do in your leisure time?
Well, my schedule always happens to be tight. But whenever I find time, I dedicate it to my family and friends. I also like to play basketball and dance sometimes.
Q. Any message for the young footballers?
When you play, don’t worry about your performance. Just enjoy your game. Playing with your feet is one thing, playing with your heart is another.
Of course, his heart is in the game, which explains his exceptional swiftness and composure on the field. Maybe, that’s why, his fellow footballer and three-time Indian player of the year, I. M. Vijayan, addressed Bhutia as “God’s gift to Indian football”.