Current national team assistant coach Shanmugam Venkatesh on Sunday hailed the late PK Banerjee as the "first icon" of Indian football, who always had the right words for the players. Former India captain and coach Banerjee, who represented the country 36 times with 19 goals to his name, died in a private hospital in Kolkata on Friday after a prolonged illness. He was 83.
Venkatesh, who had come through the national team ranks when Banerjee was the technical director, showered praises on the legend. "He is an absolute legend of the game. He was technically so gifted back in his playing days. But he was also a very good motivator," Venkatesh was quoted as saying by the All India Football Federation.
"He always had the right words for the players. Banerjee's fame as a great motivator, was not restricted to those who played under his stewardship. My journey to the national team set-up started under him. It's unfortunate that I did not have the fortune of playing at a club where he was at the helm. But the experience of starting under him made me confident," Venkatesh reflected.
Venkatesh, who had come through the national team ranks when Banerjee was the technical director, showered praises on the legend (Image: Indian Express)
Banerjee was a part of a golden era in Indian football, winning the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games gold with the forward netting a goal in the 2-1 victory over South Korea in the final. It is experiences like these that Banerjee later used to help players of the future generation deal with the pressures of playing at the top level. "He has played so many matches at the top international levels, that he knew very well how to deal with pressure situations," said Venkatesh.
"He had a gift of reading the pressure surrounding a game, and how a player is reacting to it. That made him really special." The 42-year-old shared a moment from the past when he was in the India U-21 team, and the then technical director had predicted that the youth team of the day would soon go on to form the backbone of the senior national side.
"I can look back in retrospect and say that he was right about us. But back then, when we were still playing in the junior team, none of us obviously had any idea, and we were still trying to make it to the top," Venkatesh quipped. "And sure enough, if you look at that team, and the players that we had - the likes of Dipendu (Biswas), Renedy (Singh), Mahesh (Gawali), myself - most of us went on to play in the senior team for quite a few years," he said.