Former Indian football team coach Rustam Akramov, who introduced the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia to the international game in 1995 and took the Blue Tigers to their highest-ever FIFA ranking, has died at his native place in Uzbekistan. He was 73.
The legendary Uzbek coach died on February 15, according to the official website of the National Olympic Committee of Uzbekistan. "The National Olympic Committee of Uzbekistan, the Council of Sports Veterans of Uzbekistan express their condolences to the family and friends of Rustam Akramov in connection with his death," the Uzbekistan Olympic body said. During his career, he made a huge contribution to the development of Uzbek and former Soviet football.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) condoled the death of Akramov who was in charge of the national team from 1995 to 1997. "We mourn the passing away of former India National Team head coach Rustam Akramov. May his soul rest in peace," the AIFF's official Twitter handle said. Akramov did not have any major trophy to show for during his short tenure with the Indian team but it was he who gave then Sikkimese teenager -- Bhaichung Bhutia -- his debut in a Nehru Cup match against Thailand in March 1995.
Akramov helped Bhutia to shape up as a striker instead of playing as an attacking midfielder at club level. The Indian team under Akramov was full of great players like IM Vijayan, Carlton Chapman and Bruno Coutinho, besides a young Bhutia. No wonder the Akramov-coached Indian team rose to 94th in the February 1996 FIFA rankings -- its highest ever. The team came close to this achievement in 2017 and 2018 when it rose to 96th.
Born in 1948 at a place near Tashkent, Akramov was a legend in his country as he was the first coach of the Uzbek national team after independence. During his two-year tenure from 1992-1994, the Uzbek national team won the Hiroshima Asian Games (1994) and the Central Asian Championship. For his great contribution to the development of Uzbek football, he was awarded the Shukhrat medal and the title of Honoured Coach of the Republic of Uzbekistan by the government. In 1970, he graduated from the football department of the Uzbek State Institute of Physical Culture as a coach.
He also completed postgraduate studies at the Moscow Institute of Physical Culture. He had coached clubs in Algeria and was on the coaching staff of the national team of that country. He was also the coach of the Tashkent Pakhtakor and youth team of Moscow CSKA. He later worked as AFC technical director and FIFA instructor.