PK Banerjee: Player, coach, icon!

Updated: 21 March, 2020 07:42 IST | Kashinath Bhattacharjee | Mumbai

Football great's final journey signals end of a successful era, but the PK Banerjee aura lives on.

PK Banerjee. Pic/mid-day archives
PK Banerjee. Pic/mid-day archives

Pradip Kumar Banerjee or PK, was to Indian football, what Franz Beckenbauer was to Germany. Beckenbauer won the FIFA World Cup both as a player and coach [in 1974 and 1990]. Banerjee won the gold medal at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta as a player and then guided the national team to bronze at the 1970 Asiad in Bangkok.

On Friday, Banerjee, 83, left for heavenly abode at a private nursing home here following a brief illness. He was admitted on February 7.

Arguably the best right winger Indian football has ever produced, Banerjee made his debut for the national team at the age of 19 against Ceylon in the 4th Quadrangular Cup at Dhaka. He scored a brace in the 4-3 win. His six goals across three Asian Games, including a goal in the final against South Korea in 1962, is the highest by any Indian.

Though he never donned the famous jerseys of East Bengal or Mohun Bagan, he took great pride in captaining India at the 1960 Rome Olympics. His strike in the 1-1 draw against France is part of Indian football folklore.

Playing club football for Eastern Railways, Banerjee helped them win the Calcutta Football League in 1958. Only one more club other than the Big Three Kolkata clubs—Peerless (in 2019)—emulated this feat after independence.

PK tale

PK's career was all about stories. Once, Iranian World Cupper Majid Bishkar, who was playing for East Bengal in 1980, challenged coach PK to score from the penalty spot against one of India's best goalkeepers, Bhaskar Ganguly during a practice session. At 44, PK scored in seven out of 10 attempts. Bishkar never questioned his coach's technical decisions thereafter.

Following his retirement as a player in 1967, PK earned his FA coaching degree in Tokyo and began coaching a small club, Bata in Kolkata. He went on to coach both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, winning over 50 trophies, making him the most successful club coach in Indian football.

Under him, Mohun Bagan played out a 2-2 draw against New York Cosmos, who had legendary Brazilian Pele in their ranks, at Eden Gardens in 1977. The PK-coached East Bengal's 5-0 rout of arch-rival Mohun Bagan in the 1975 IFA Shield final, remains the biggest margin of victory in the Kolkata derby.

In the 1997 Federation Cup semi-final, attended by a record 1.31 lakh spectators, at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan, coach PK watched East Bengal striker Bhaichung Bhutia scoring a scintillating hat-trick to beat Diamond-Bagan, coached by the late Amal Dutta, with whom PK shared a bitter-sweet rivalry.

PK's illustrious coaching career however, is a pale comparison to PK the footballer. His speed with the ball down the right flank, powerful shooting, heading and inch-perfect crosses from the wing earned him a lot of praise from both fans and critics. With Chuni Goswami and Tulsidas Balaram, the trio became the Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwar of Indian football as they helped India win the 1962 Asian Games gold medal under the late SA Rahim.

PK was among the first recipients of the Arjuna Award in 1961 when the award was introduced by the Indian government. Later, in 1990, he was awarded the Padma Shri after which FIFA recognised his contribution by honouring him with the Centennial Order of Merit in 2000.

'Vocal tonic'

From great writers like Tagore to Shakespeare and Kafka to Camus, PK had the knowledge of everything under the sun and his oratory skills earned him the title 'Master of Vocal Tonic' in Kolkata maidans. The Ranji Trophy-winning Bengal team in 1989-90, requested PK for a pep talk before the final against Delhi, and he inspired debutant Sourav Ganguly and Co.

The Tata Football Academy, flourished from 1991 to 1996 when PK was technical director.

An expert football writer and commentator, PK was associated with the game in every sense. India cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar first met PK in 1982 and wrote: "In our first meeting, he surprised us by saying that batsmen and fast bowlers should not undergo the same sort of physical training schedules, which we all agreed, should have been different based on the demand of jobs involved."

With PK, a successful era of Indian football has ended but his aura lives on.

'RIP, PK Da'

Sunil Chhetri@chetrisunil11:
I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. PK Banerjee as well as to the entire Indian football fraternity. He was a pioneer in every sense of the word, and his achievements will forever have a place in Indian footballing history. Rest in peace.

Sachin Tendulkar@sachin_rt:
Heartfelt condolences on the passing of the great Indian footballer PK Banerjee! Have fond memories of meeting him on a few occasions and the positivity he spread. May his soul Rest In Peace!

Sourav Ganguly@SGanguly99:
Lost a very dear person today .. someone who I loved and respected enormously.. someone who had so much influence in my career when I was a 18 year old boy .. his positivity was infectious .. may his soul rest in peace

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First Published: 21 March, 2020 07:29 IST

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