Soumya Bose : Ever tried comparing a well-done beef steak at Oly’s or a juicy pork rib at Eau Chew? If you are true meat lover, it will be difficult for you. Isn’t it? Comparing the two greatest Indian football talents of the nostalgic nineties who will easily get places in the all-time hall of fame, brings before you the same classic case of “horns of dilemma”. 

I.M. Vijayan’s and Bhaichung Bhutiya’s coming to Kolkata had different backgrounds. Vijayan was already a star, shining brightly for Kerala Police and his state team at the Santosh Trophy. There was the pressure of high expectation and the edgy history of promising players failing to make a mark in the Kolkata Maidan. But Vijayan did the Vini, Vidi, Vici, winning the mariners’ heart with his sublime skills and partnering with names like Sisir Ghosh and Chima Okarie. The highlight being the 2-0 Fed Cup final win over the arch rivals, famous for Debashis Sarkar’s Milla dance. He did not score, but he created havoc in the rival defense with tricky skills and swift passes. Although, he returned to his footballing alma mater the next season, his love story with Mohun Bagan was well established by then. His two more stints with our club have etched many a golden memory that will never be forgotten. His two stints with the rivals were not that impressive but with JCT he kept his best.

Bhaichung on the other hand, came to Kolkata as a promising teenager, unpolished, untested, and hopes and doubts surrounding his prowess. The pressure around him was low but leaving the mountains and settling alone in a bustling city was heavy on him. However, his fortunes gradually turned. I can still remember how he tormented Tarun Dey in a ’95 CFL derby. There’s no shame in confessing that Bhaichung in the rival colors was a constant threat to us. His move to our club was a partial failure, injuries plagued him and those were turbulent times at the club. So, when he returned 2006, not much was expected from him. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going and so did Bhaichung. Who will forget his deadly combination with our messiah Jose Barreto? They were more like the famous Brazilian duos of Ronaldo and Rivaldo or Romario and Bebeto but not like another successful combo of Romario and Edmundo. They gave their best on and off the field, egos not coming between them like the Ro-Edu partnership. Who will forget the six on six derby streak that extended to 8 in 10? It’s unfortunate, he had to end his journey with us due to off field controversy.

Moving forward to the most difficult part, comparing Vijayan and Bhaichung on their footballing ability, let’s set the tone by defining their overall playing style. Vijayan was magical with the ball, naturally equipped with great technique possessing excellent peripheral vision, cool-headed striker of the ball, and a flawless marksman. I have never seen him scoring him a drab goal, he always ended up scoring goals in the most exciting style. He was a typical no. 10 forward while Bhaichung with his famous 15 was actually what we expect from the best of a no. 9. Sly and wily inside and around the box, Bhaichung was a livewire with excellent ball control and was a cunning opportunist. Many of his goals were result of his perseverance, snatches and tap-ins, which to the contrary is a great quality for a typical modern day striker or even an old fashioned center forward. Bhaichung looked agile and everyone would expect a diving header or a bicycle from him while Vijayan looked like a lanky, grounded guy could have astonished with acrobatics too. In fact, in between Bhaichung’s several bicycle kick goals, I have seen Vijayan scored the best ever bicycle goal versus Mohammedan in the 1993 Airlines Cup. He scored that gem, meeting a rising ball, floated by Arif Ansari, managing to lift himself up like a lightning even in a mud-heavy turf.

Before I lost my way into the unending memories of these two stalwarts, I would better make a rating-based comparison between the two on the basis of some key areas. Before that, I will put a disclaimer that it is purely based on my personal opinion of their games. You can say, I am taking the privilege of watching Indian football from the stands since the mid 80’s and a very few years as footballer in the Maidan. The rating is based on a scale of 10.

I would deliberately skip totaling the scorers but I have no qualm in admitting my slight weakness towards Vijayan. No, not because as a Mariner but for simply footballing reasons. The reason I put Vijayan an inch forward is because of the magic quotient. Even in his worst day, Vijayan could create something so special, unthinkable to create the difference. Bhaichung on the other hand was unstoppable in his best days but sometimes looked like his own shadow in the down-days. Nonetheless, India was blessed with these two predators scoring 80 international goals between themselves and bringing glory to the country. Pity, we didn’t get to see them together for Mohun Bagan.

– By Soumya Bose (Footballer, Writer, Musician & A proud mariner)