Indian football lost one of the true heroes of the game whose contribution cannot be just put into words. PK-da who left us on 20th March 2020 after a prolonged illness is someone who I have great respect and adulation. He was one of the famous personalities of Indian football, who made Indian football proud with his on and off the field exploits for 5 decades, from 1954 to 2005.
Those who know him will agree with me that he will make you at ease within a second in the first meeting itself, no arrogance, no attitude, full of positive vibes, and for him there was no stranger in his world. He can have a discussion on any subject, whether it is music, politics, history, cinema, Bollywood, international affairs, leadership, sports and of course, football. You will never hear anyone saying after meeting him, it was a waste of time, one could only get enriched meeting him. A great communicator, absolute clarity of thoughts, and could speak Bengali, Hindi and English with great fluency.
We will never hear from any player who have played under him saying they didn’t give 100% to his team while he was a coach or Technical Director. Pradipda’s ability to motivate player was like a trained sports psychologist, not only by his words, but also by impacting his environment he could get the best performances of his players. His man management skills were like an accomplished cooperate leader. His all-round skills, dedication, passion, professionalism helped him win more trophies and titles in the Indian football domestic level than any other coach in Indian soil.
Bhaichung Bhutia, former India captain reiterated the fact that late PK Banerjee was a great motivator and was more than a coach for players. In the words of Bhaichung, PK-da was the biggest name in India during his playing days and he managed to get best out of him when he was part of the East Bengal Football Club in the 90s. He was an excellent orator and a team builder. In short, he was way ahead of Indian football with his thoughts and deeds, and I must admit we couldn’t take best advantage of him for Indian football.
During his era as a player there were few other stalwarts, but he took his on-field stardom beyond his playing career. Though he retired as a player in 1967 but he stood out as a leading ambassador of Indian football within India and beyond till the late 90s. He finds a place in the first ever Arjuna Award list in 1961, the only football player among 18 Arjuna Award recipients in the company of legendary Ramanathan Krishnan (Tennis), Prithipal Singh (Hockey), etc. is the testimony to the fact that he is one of the greatest sportsman India has witnessed.
For long former winger was the face and voice of Indian football, especially from the late 70s to the 90s when football in India was on a constant decline, but one man who should be credited to keep football alive through his positive interventions in the media and among fans in difficult times has to be former head coach of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal Mr. PK Banerjee. His opinion mattered, his words carried more weight than anyone else on Indian football, and if PK-da was the darling of Kolkata media or media at large that means he always had a special place in Indian football and not to forget FIFA’s Centennial Order of Merit award in 2004, declaring PK Banerjee Indian player of the 20th Century, which is another big milestone in the career of Padma Shri PK-da.
If anyone thought former Indian Captain Pradip Kumar Banerjee was only interested to work with the National team and big clubs, then we must note that he always believed and was vocal about producing talented youth players and thus when the opportunity arrived, former player of Aryan FC Shri Pradip Kumar Banerjee joined Tata Football Academy as a Technical Director in 1991 and remained there till 1997. Under his leadership TFA produced more than 25 players who played for India during that period.
India’s last biggest achievement was at the 1970 Asian Games where India won the bronze medal and I don’t know how many of us remember that FIFA Fairplay Award Winner in 1990 Mr. PK Banerjee was the joint coach of the Senior National Team. This is yet another achievement which indicates he was not an ordinary technician, but an extraordinary personality who left a big impression in whatever he was involved with. As a player he was prolific, 14 goals in 45 international appearances and 190 goals at domestic level without even playing for Kolkata giants. After a debut season with Aryan FC in 1954, Pradipda was part of Eastern Railway side for 12 long seasons till his retirement.
I personally had a great honour and pleasure to work with the legend for nearly two years from 2004 to 2006 during my stint as a head of the National Teams Department with All India Football Federation. First, Pradipda was Technical Mentor with U17 Youth National Team till November 2004 and then he became manager of the National Team when former international defender and JCT head coach Mr. Sukhwinder Singh become the Head Coach of the India National Team in 2005. He continued his association with the Indian national team till Mr. Syed Nayeemuddin was the head coach of the National Team.
Indian U17 side was blessed to have a PK-da as a team mentor and under his mentorship India prepared for AFC U17 Championship 2004 held in Japan. Though we couldn’t cross the group stage (one win over Malaysia and narrowly losing to Iran 1-0 and Kuwait 2-1) but I believe the overall experience of our youth players was exceptional because of Mr. PK Banerjee’s presence during the camp and competition phase. Working with former talismanic attacker PK-da was an enriching experience for me in many ways.
The far richer experience for me was when former India head coach Pradip Banerjee was with the Senior National Team in 2005. He toured the team as a Team Manager in Pakistan for three match friendly series. At the end of the tour while returning from Pakistan he was not allowed to board the flight by the Pakistan immigration because his passport was not stamped at the local police station. Due to which we faced a mini crisis for many hours until PK-da landed in Delhi. Mr. Alberto Colaco, former GS could manage the crisis with the direct intervention of then AIFF President and Union Minister Mr. PR Dasmunsi and local football officials in Pakistan. While he was facing this issue in Pakistan, I spoke to him twice, most positive part, he didn’t have any harsh words to say for anyone except the agony in his voice of the whole experience. It was not the best of experience for Mr. Banerjee, but he managed the crisis with a smile and positivity.
While he was part of the National Team for a brief period when Shri Syed Nayeemuddin was the Head Coach, PK-da played a big role as a fatherly figure in the team and his partnership with Dhronacharya Nayeemuddin was better in every aspect. Arjuna Awardee Pradip Kumar Banerjee was a versatile personality, could manage any situation intellectually and diplomatically.
My first experience of meeting PK-da was not as a National Team Director but as a Research Scholar in 1998 while he was a Technical Director of East Bengal. I met him in his Mumbai hotel room, day before a crucial NFL match at the Cooperage Ground. It was part of my research work on Indian football I scheduled an interview with him, requested 60 minutes of his time, but my interaction with him lasted for a good 245 minutes in one stretch. He was an encyclopedia of Indian football, full of stats, stories, insights on Indian and global football. I couldn’t thank my luck and fortune, to get that much time with him was not only inspiring but also an Indian football lesson for me which is still fresh in my memory. Encouraged by his inspiring words, I ended up requesting him another 30 minutes of him after the match day, he readily granted me the time to continue the interaction. Meeting him was the best thing happened to me in that phase of life as his inspiring words only strengthened my resolve to fully focus on Indian football when the majority said I made a wrong choice by investing my time into Indian football.
A Bengali speaking Malayalee couldn’t have expected bigger than what I got from Indian football legend, an intellectual, a leader, and a role model PK-da. His words of wisdom and encouragement will always stay with me for life. I am blessed to have met him numerous times, even after his health issues he was in high spirit, displayed positivity and for him there was nothing impossible to conquer.
Pradipda was a genius in every way and Indian football could have utilised him beyond engaging him as a coach. When he was in his optimum capacity from 70s to 90s, after his retirement, he could have been more assistance to football in India. Based on my understanding of him, his capacity was such he could have become a Chief Marketing Officer or Chief of Corporate Communication or Chief of Public Relations or Chief of Strategy or even Chief Executive, etc. in any corporate company. Had he got the opportunity to function at the executive level of Indian football, he could have surely delivered, and our football should have been on a different level today. We have certainly missed a big opportunity to engage him differently, but now it is important to showcase his achievements and contributions to Indian football through whatever way possible. Unfortunately, in India we don’t have a sports or football museum or a digital platform where Pradipda can be portrayed in 360-degree aspects of his life for the good of football in India.
He left this world without seeing India in the World Cup, his ultimate dream was to contribute in making India a powerful football nation and to see India qualify for the world cup. The perfect tribute to legendary PK-da would be to implement a visionary plan in Indian football and make Indian football great again by qualifying for the World Cup.
We should never forget his gigantic contribution to Indian football, we must keep him alive by taking right steps in the development of football in India. Which is the other player in Indian football history who scored against a strong France side in the Olympics (Rome 1960)? Let’s not make him a history, we should be able to connect PK-da with the new generation for inspiring youth and football fans to dream big and to play an active role in making India a super-power in football.
All India Football Federation must consider naming under construction National Training Centre in Kolkata after Pradipda, it will be a perfect gesture from the apex body for football in India to honour the contribution of late Padma Shri Pradip Kumar Banerjee. Further, we should also consider installing an appropriate level of award in his name or starting a trophy would also be an encouraging gesture.
PK-da like versatile personality is a rare phenomenon in Indian football and not to forget, he made his mark in a pre-social media era, connected to masses in real sense due to his exploits and glamour on and off the field. He has left behind a strong legacy and we have the responsibility to protect his legacy and promote his work in a way to make him feel great with Indian football on a daily basis. More than million words must have written by now since his departure, but even trillion words won’t do justice to what he has given to Indian football. My salute to him.
Long live PK-da. We miss you PK-da.