Kolkata, Dec 18: It was in famous red-and-gold East Bengal jersey that 17-year-old Bhaichung Bhutia came into prominence back in 1995 and after nearly two decades, one of India's greatest ever footballer is going to play what will be his final season in Indian club football.
Bhutia had retired in national jersey after playing an exhibition match against the star-studded Bayern Munich team led by Phillip Lahm but is now expected to sign during the second phase of the I-League and may be play at least one "last match" for his favourite club.
The Sikkimese Sniper today announced that he would return to his club East Bengal to keep his promise as he will once again put on his boots and will try his best to come in shape and play as many matches possible as a fit player.
"I've earlier promised that I want to retire in an East Bengal jersey but it could not happen as I suffered an injury. But this season, I want to retire signing with East Bengal. Still I'm not fully fit. I want to train and be fit and play. Even if, I'm playing my last competitive game, I want to play as a fit player," the former India captain, who was recently inducted into AFC's 'Hall of Fame' told reporters today.
The former India captain said he would not like to be a burden on Armando Colaco's team as he would strive to get full fitness to justify his place in the team.
"Knee is still not in best shape after the surgery. I want to fight and play maybe the entire second leg of the league but if it does not happen then at least for the last match. I'm not saying he (Colaco) has to include me. I should not be playing matches when I'm not fit. That will be unfair. If I'm fit, then you never know."
Bhutia said he had offers in ISL but to honour his commitment, he's coming back to the red and gold camp. "Please don't think that it's a comeback. I could have done ISL but I had given a commitment to East Bengal that's why I'm signing. I want to fulfil my commitment. I want to give my best. I'm just coming back here to retire." Bhutia said he would sign in the second week of February and start training after that.
'I want to give my best'
I-League is tentatively scheduled to begin on January 17 and the first city derby between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal is likely to be on January 25. It would mean that Bhutia will be part of the East Bengal side in the return leg of the derby.
"I want to give my best. I'm just coming back here to retire. I will sign after second window starts. I will start training by mid February."
Bhutia joked when asked about his last appearance at club level. "Maybe 1947 " joked Bhutia, who was last seen with United Sikkim in the 2012-13 season. Delighted on getting the AFC Hall of Fame, Bhutia said it was a great moment for the Indian football.
"To be among the likes of the greats was something special. On the whole, I think it was a big honour for the Indian football. My dream was to get the AFC Footballer of the Year Award but since it did not happen then may be it was great to have received after retirement."
On a lighter vein, Bhutia added that the AFC would think twice the next time they give this award. "This is given only to the retired player and I think I would be the only player to play matches after getting the Hall of Fame! Please don't take it otherwise, I'm just coming here to retire."