It’s Baichung time in Gangtok

“I have always told every person who has coached Baichung that his header is the strongest weapon in his arsenal,” says Karma P. Bhutia, superintending engineer at the state Transport Department, and Baichung’s mentor. And, it was a header in the 54th minute in East Bengal’s quarter finals clash against Indonesia’s second-best club, Persita Tangerang, that eventually took his club into the semis of the LG Asean Club Championship that East Bengal went on to win, in glorious style.

It’s Baichung time in Gangtok. The controversial penalty awarded to the home team in the quarter final would be a case in point. Karma Bhutia, for one, is convinced that it was a Persita ploy to irritate Baichung on the field to upset his concentration and force him out of the match. “Teams at the tournament had identified Baichung as the danger man and have two players marked him all the time. To badger him with some soccer sledging could be a ploy to disturb his game.”
Karma had, as a matter of fact, spoken to Baichung after the quarters, advising him to “keep a cooler head”. “He does not normally lose his cool or the focus of his game, but said that he was coming up against some very partisan referring,” Karma says. “But I was convinced he was then performing at only 90 per cent." Truer word were rarely spoken.

Commenting on the hero’s record feat at Jakarta, Manas Chakraborty, Baichung’s coach during his school days at Tashi Namgyal Academy said Baichung, apart from being a skilful striker, is also a born leader. “His five goals boosted the team morale and convinced them that they could win. Not an easy task for the club’s first foreign tournament,” he said. Bhutia, who missed the quarterfinals on TV, said that the 5-goal haul was a treat. “I think that he is playing for the right team and is under the right guidance of coach Subhash Bhowmick,” he said.

HT Basi, Joint Director, department of sports and youth affairs, and a known footballer himself, believes that the Bury FC stint was the best thing that happened to Baichung. “Injuries may have benched him often, but the professionalism he imbibed has improved Baichung as a player. He is a much more mature footballer now,” he said. As for Sherap Lepcha, Baichung’s one-time mate, the man was all smiles after Baichung’s record run. “Baichung is certainly peaking. I know he knows no fear. Married to his natural skill as a striker and nose for goals, this makes for a killer combination.” he said.

By Pema Wangchuk (