But the ambitious teen in Gautam Sarkar soon realized that reconstructing the craft of Chuni Goswami was as difficult as a Greek puzzle. But so strong was his dream of becoming a footballer that he kept believing himself, pushing the boundary and developing a great art that even Goswami later felt proud of.
In a football world always alive to the excitement of a marvelous goal or a mazy dribble, Sarkar became synonymous with the great art of tackling. Those fortunate enough to see him play in the 70s recall his feisty and ferocious style of play and how he set up an impenetrable wall of superiority around him that even the best of ball-charmers and playmakers during that time dreaded to come in contact with.
“Watching Chuni Goswas was a football education for youngsters like me. But I eventually understood that I was not a natural dribbler of the ball, nor could I score magical goal like some of my peers. However, what I possessed was something special: My decision-making and my ability to sense danger. I developed this quality over time, which helped me grow as player,” Sarkar, who would receive the lifetime achievement award from East Bengal club on Monday evening, told TOI.
It was in East Bengal, Sarkar found his place under the sun as a footballer, which eventually earned him the sobriquet the “Beckenbauer of Indian football.”
Sarkar is one of the few footballers to have captained both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, but, according to him, joining East Bengal was “pure destiny.”
“We were staying at Patipukur in Kolkata at that time and one fine morning, some officials from BNR came to my house seeking my consent to play for them as well as offering me a job. But my elder sister (Chandana Sarkar) wanted me to focus only of playing. As fate would have it, that very evening, then East Bengal’s football secretary Ajay Srimani and another official Jyotirmoy Sengupta came calling and asked me to join the club. I was playing for Khidderpore at that time. My sister this time coaxed me to take up the offer. It was pure destiny that I had to play for East Bengal,” Sarkar, now 72, recalled.
The year was 1972 when the legend of Sarkar started. “I scored against Mohammedan Sporting in my first big match and since then I never looked back,” he said.
Sarkar played a key part in East Bengal’s treble-winning march in 1972 — a feat that he also achieved while playing for Mohun Bagan in 1977, the year which was also highlighted for his man-marking of Pele in the exhibition match against Cosmos Club.
Of his many memories in red and gold jersey, where he developed a highly successful combination with ‘Partner’ Samaresh Chowdhury, Sarkar highlighted the 3-1 win against North Korea’s Pong Yong City, comprising as many as six World Cuppers in the IFA Shield final in 1973 and, of course, the famous 5-0 demolition of Mohun Bagan in the same tournament two years later.
“We played to our plan in that match and once we started bossing the midfield there was no way for Mohun Bagan to come back. Me and ‘Partner’ were escorted by crazy fans from the Mohun Bagan ground to the Victoria House, from where we took a taxy to reach home. On the way, Partner celebrated the win by gobbling a handful of phuchkas near Amherst Street,” Sarkar reminisced.
Sarkar went on to serve Mohun Bagan in equal measure from 1977 to 1983. But he came back to East Bengal in 1984 to hang up his boots. “I retired as an East Bengal player. It’s also destiny, no,” Sarkar said.