Bhaichung Bhutia. (TOI Photo)

KOLKATA: Club legend Bhaichung Bhutia has placed his sizzling Federation Cup semi-final hattrick against Mohun Bagan along with the historic ASEAN Cup and National Football League title triumphs as his top three memories with East Bengal on a day the iconic club celebrated its centenary year.
Iconic former India captain Bhutia, regarded as one of the finest strikers the country has ever produced, began his career at East Bengal in 1992 and went on to win every single trophy with the club including one National Football League title and the famous ASEAN Cup in 2003.
He had five different stints donning red and gold starting from 1993 to 2011.
“I have had the best memories of the club playing well for 10 years. It is one of the most iconic clubs in India with such great history,” Bhutia told IANS in an interview.
“For me, it’s just about great memories,” said Bhutia. Asked to pick his top moments with the outfit, Bhutia said his 1997 Federation Cup semifinal hattrick against traditional rivals Mohun Bagan would be right up there along with the ASEAN Cup triumph and the National Football League win.
“I would say the ASEAN Cup win, then my hattrick and winning the league with East Bengal will be the moments I will always cherish fondly,” said Bhutia, who is still adorned by East Bengal fans despite him also turning out for arch-rivals Mohun Bagan during his illustrated career.
It was on July 26, 2003 that history was made when East Bengal scripted one of the greatest victories in Indian football by winning the ASEAN Cup under coach Subhash Bhowmick.
East Bengal had become the first Indian club to win an officially recognised Asian football tournament as Bhutia emerged as the top scorer with eight goals.
The club though is not having the best of times at the moment. East Bengal are currently without any sponsors after their former investors Quess Corp, who had a 70 percent stake in the club, terminated their tie-up on May 31 despite having a three-year deal.
Meanwhile, Indian Super League (ISL) organisers Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), during a meeting with club representatives have made it clear that they would stick to 10 teams for the upcoming season starting in November. It is still not confirmed whether East Bengal will eventually take part in the country’s top division or continue playing in the I-League.
“It is a difficult time and more difficult with the COVID-19 scenario,” said Bhutia.
“I think they will have to keep working hard. Try and maybe play the ISL and keep trying to get the investors coming. So that I think they will have to keep working,” insisted the ace forward.
Bhutia said the Quess saga could have been handled in a better way. “It is difficult for me to blame anyone but whatever has happened so far, especially with Quess…it couldn’t really happen in a very professional manner.
“It is not right to blame the officials because it’s not easy for a club like East bengal to bring in sponsors during these difficult times. It is challenging.
“But East Bengal should play in the top tier of the country. It is a big loss for Indian football. You need top clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan to play in the top tier.
“I am sure they will come out of this sooner or later,” added the 43-year old ‘Sikkimese Sniper’.

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