With the passing away of Chuni Goswami, Indian football has lost arguably its greatest-ever player. Among his peers, he stood out easily. PK Banerjee had speed and strength, Tulsidas Balaram thrived in an all-round game but Goswami had magical skills. Nobody in the history of Indian football had a sharper cutting edge in the final third. In his autobiography, Wing Theke Goal (Wing to Goal), PK mentioned a piece of Goswami’s brilliance during a match at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta. Goswami dribbled past four opposition players, went around the goalkeeper and instead of feeding the unmarked PK, the then India captain scored from a very acute angle. PK wrote, “I asked him why didn’t he give me the ball. Chuni’s reply was sharp, ‘I set it up going past five players, and you will put the cherry on top!’”
Goswami was a born athlete. As a first-class cricketer, he was good enough to lead Bengal to a Ranji Trophy final. His inswingers had floored Garry Sobers’s West Indies in a tour game against East Zone and Central Zone combined in the 1960s.
In many ways, Goswami, PK and Balaram symbolised the most romantic era of Indian football. India was not a footballing superpower then. But they were no pushovers either, and could produce moments of underdog magic, like beating Asian giants Iran, Japan and South Korea. They were not, perhaps, the most technically gifted or systematically regimented footballers. But when in sync, they could orchestrate artistic football, turn on the style quotient. There was always the allure of raw talent, and a beautiful unpredictability about them. With Goswami and Banerjee gone, Balaram remains the flickering link between the grossly commercialised times of Indian football and its uncomplicated black-and-white era.
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