Both Bhutia and Ganguly are iconic former captains of their respective sport and while the cricketer was born and brought up in Kolkata, the ace footballer shares a deep bond with the city, having spent so much time there while playing for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in his heyday.
Bhutia threw his hat into the AIFF election ring once again even as former goalkeeper Kalyan Chaubey, seen as the BJP candidate, has emerged as the front runner for the top job. Both the former players filed their nominations on Thursday.
“Today what I’ve become is only because of football. I’m a Padma Shri because of it. I played for India for 16 years — this is my moment to give back to my sport. It needs reforms with the ban happening,” Bhutia said during an interaction.
“I’m not new to AIFF. I’m working with the government and the sports ministry. The government is supporting all sportspersons. Our PM is helping sports grow in India.
“I have the experience, the knowledge, and plans for Indian football. I can do it. With so much negativity around, we need reforms. Sportspersons are now motivated to enter administration.”
A decorated player with more than 100 international appearances, Bhutia added, “Look at Sourav Ganguly, he is an iconic cricketer and doing so well in cricket administration.”
Bhutia was all praise for Chaubey’s keenness to help the sport navigate its way through one of its toughest phases as an administrator, but reiterated that he can do a “much better job”.
Given a chance to run the AIFF, he said he will do his best to arrange substantial funding for all state associations, in order to organise regular tournaments in all age-groups, set up football centre of excellences across the country, and also use the training facilities to develop coaches and conducting advanced courses for the referees.
He also said that regional languages must be introduced in coaching programmes so that the ones aspiring to become coaches are not made to do it in English as they might not be fluent in it.
“I want to help the state associations financially, technically. We need both long-term and short-term goals.”
Though he had once contested the legislative elections and also floated a political party in his native state of Sikkim, Bhutia said he does not belong to any big national party, and it can help him in managing football administration better.
“See, whenever there were big politicians at the helm you would hear one state saying he belongs to my party, he belongs to another. But with me, I can go to any state without any issues, because I am not affiliated to a big national political party.
“Our priority should be to produce players, we need to play the World Cup on merit and not just as hosts. We have to make sure that football is the winner.
“Let me and Kalyan sit and have a discussion, and the media can also be part of it and then decided who is the better man to lead Indian football. Let’s not make this election political,” he said.
“Let’s not get politics involved and destroy this beautiful sport.”
To buttress his belief that he is good at administration, Bhutia also cited his experience as an advisor at the Sikkim Football Association, besides running of the United Sikkim club for nearly two decades.
One of the country’s greatest players, the 45-year-old concluded by saying, “I can change Indian football for good. I have the credibility, I am competent. It’s definitely a challenge, but not impossible.”
Rajasthan Football Association president Manvendra Singh, a Congress politician and a former Lok Sabha MP, is backing Bhutia’s candidature along with Andhra Pradesh FA president Gopalkrishna Kosaraju, who on Friday withdrew his nomination for the treasurer’s post in the AIFF elections slated for September 2.
Manvendra alleged that Karnataka FA chief N A Harris has bullied Kosaraju into withdrawing his candidature.
Both Manvendra and Kosaraju claimed that Harris also wanted Telangana’s GP Palguna, also a former India player, to pull out of the race for the vice president’s post.
Bhutia has been involved in multiple roles in football administration post-retirement — from owning a club to becoming the president of the players’ association and even serving the AIFF’s technical committee as its chairman – apart from diving into politics by joining Trinamool Congress in 2014 before launching his own party, Hamro Sikkim, in 2018.
The election process is underway even as the AIFF waits for FIFA to lift the suspension imposed on the national body for violating its statutes.
FIFA had suspended the AIFF after alleging ‘undue influence’ from third parties – referring to the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators – in the functioning of the federation.
The SC has since removed the CoA.