Friday, August 08, 2008

I'll play as long as I enjoy it: Bhaichung

Hyderabad: At 32, international footballers are generally at the fag end of their career. But India captain Bhaichung Bhutia continues to amaze football buffs with his zeal to be at the zenith.

"Age is a factor in a footballer's life. But look at players like Paolo Maldini and Romario, they have defied age. I will also play as long as I enjoy, and I think my best is yet to come," Bhaichung told IANS Tuesday.

The India captain might not be worried about the age factor but chief coach Bob Houghton has expressed his reservations about the ace striker's lasting powers. The Englishman left out Bhutia from the starting eleven in a crucial group phase match against Tajikistan in the AFC Challenge Cup, but was forced to field him in the second half.

After the match, Houghton said it is difficult for Bhaiching at his age to run continuously in back to back matches.

Reacting to the chief coach's comments, Bhaichung said: "You have to accept that at 32 I am not getting any younger. But it is not that I can't play in two matches in three days. But it feels good to get some rest and that day Bob's decision to rest me paid off perfectly."

Against Tajikistan, India were down 0-1 in the first ten minutes. Once the skipper came in, the energy levels in the field went up and India found the equaliser.

Asked whether the team is heavily dependent on him, Bhaichung said: "I don't accept it. The team has been playing as a unit and that has helped me to score the goals. It is a young team and guys like Sushil Singh and Sunil Chettri need time to develop. I also came up the same way."

When asked why India could not produce another Bhaichung or a Vijayan, the India captain said: "I don't think we need another Bhaichung or Vijayan. No two players can be similar. We need just good players, who can play consistently with dedication."

Are the clubs doing enough to produce good players? "Again there are a lot of if and buts as for producing good players. The question is whether the clubs should produce good players or should the players perform well and climb up the ladder.’’

"In Europe, the clubs produce players. In India, I think, some restructuring is necessary to change the system by which the clubs are forced to produce players."

After his playing days are over, Bhaichung wants to come up with an academy. "It has always been my dream. But I haven't decided where it will come up. Anyone who gives me 40-50 acres I will build my academy there," he said.