Philem Dipak Singh
Doha, Jan 13 (PTI) National football team coach BobHoughton today compared Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia withlegendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar for the influence theyhave on their respective team-mates "on and off the field".
"Bhaichung has won a celebrity dance competition inIndia, he is a celebrity in India," Houghton said in a lightervein when asked if the ''Sikkimese Sniper'' can be compared withTendulkar.
On a more serious note, Houghton told a press conferenceon the eve of India''s second match against Bahrain that bothare role models in their respective sports."Comparison between Bhaichung and Sachin must be goingover the heads of a lot of people here who don''t knowcricket," Houghton said.
"The best cricketer in the world is in India. Tendulkaris a very fine role model, a fine person. Comparison withBhaichung is similar.
"They are of the same age, they keep going. Bhaichungretired a few years ago (in 2006) but came back. This man is amajor influence on the team on and off the field. He is aleader. If we can get him out on the field, he could make adifference for us," said the 63-year-old Englishman.
Houghton said that Bhutia''s influence on the team is suchthat having him in the ongoing Asian Cup squad despite theskipper being not fully fit was "worth a gamble".
Ruled out of tomorrow''s match against Bahrain aftermissing out on the country''s opening Asian Cup fixture againstAustralia due to a calf muscle injury, Bhutia is expected toplay in the third match against South Korea on Januray 18.
Bhaichung was the first Indian to play professionalfootball in Europe in the post-independence era, when he spentthree years with English Championship side FC Bury between1999 and 2002.
The 34-year-old has played 104 international matches forIndia since 1995 and is the record goal-scorer.
Tendulkar, 37, is the leading runs scorer and centurymaker in both Test and one-day international cricket.
Known as the ''Little Master'', he is widely considered asthe greatest batsman of the modern era.