Kolkata: From the sleepy Tinkitam village in mountainous Sikkim to playing professional football in England, striking genius Bhaichung Bhutia has traversed many unchartered territories in Indian soccer to emerge as a rare non-cricketing sports icon pampered alike by the masses and the corporates.
As the 34-year-old forward, hailed "God's gift to Indian football" by another gifted striker I.M. Vijayan, called it quits from international football Wednesday, he left behind a trail of outstanding goals - 42 in 107 appearances for the country spread over 16 years.
What he lacked in height at 5'8", Bhutia made up with his sharp intelligence, superb athleticism and reflexes, and an uncanny ability to find the goals, which endeared him to the football buffs turning out in their thousands to enjoy the flair that characterised the Sikkimese sniper's game.
The short stature only camouflaged his physical and mental toughness, and an iron will to go all out for the goals notwithstanding hard tackles, as many defenders were at their wit's end to combat Bhutia's sixth sense at anticipation that helped him to position himself perfectly and at the right time to finish off in style rather than with raw power.
Image: Bhaichung Bhutia celebrates the goal against Sri Lanka during the 14th Nehru Cup International Football Tournament at Ambedkar stadium in New Delhi on August 26, 2009.