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PK Banerjee: Player, coach, motivator and a lot more

CHENNAI: Explaining something in the simplest possible manner is not the easiest thing to do. One may understand what he or she is dealing with, but to communicate that to a group of pupil or wards, in a way that they understand and put that knowledge to use, requires a special kind of skill. To those who knew him, this was one of the biggest attributes of PK Banerjee.

 

Successful player and coach, Banerjee was a rare entity in Indian football. His exploits came beyond national confines, at a time when the country still had some standing at the continental level.

Part of the Asian Games gold-winning team in 1962, he was coach when India finished on the podium the last time, claiming bronze in the 1970 edition.

He was at the forefront either as coach of India or the big two clubs of Kolkata for over 30 years after that and made a lasting impression on people he came in contact with, not just footballers.

His ability to motivate became famous in the Kolkata maidans as ‘vocal tonic’. It was simple pep talk, but delivered in a manner that brought the best out of his charges.

“He understood situations and reacted accordingly,” recalls former goalkeeper Atanu Bhattacharya, who played under Banerjee for India, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and also the Railways team in Santosh Trophy.

“Expectations from these teams were different and he knew what to do. Five minutes before a match for Railways against Bengal he told me ‘this is going to be your day’. We won on tie-breaker, me saving two or three shots.”

Devising plans and choosing words as per requirement instead of sticking to a tested line made Banerjee different from peers.

“Coaching Mohun Bagan and East Bengal necessitated one approach because these two were always the favourites. Railways was a different deal because they were the underdogs. He was adept at both. Depending on the situation, he would formulate a plan that was required at that moment,” recalled Bhattacharya. Banerjee’s true greatness lay in his ability to draw that kind of assessment from players of different generations.

Bhattacharya played in the eighties and belonged to one era. Bhaichung Bhutia, who retired in 2011, represented another. Pradipda to the former and PKda to the younger, Banerjee will be fondly remembered by both.

“No matter how tactically or technically sound you are, coaching a football team is about man management skills. He sent positive vibes and never let you feel low. It helped that he was a happy man, with a sense of humour, who spread that positivity around. PKda knew how to charge up his players without letting the pressure get to them,” said Bhutia, referring to a Federation Cup semifinal in 1997, where his hat-trick propelled East Bengal to a 4-1 win against Mohun Bagan. The former were the underdogs going into that game.

Another trait that made Banerjee unique was the ease he handled different roles with. Player, coach and motivator apart, he was also a good teacher. Players and teams did well under him because he could convey in effective ways what was needed of them and how it was to be done. Experience, with practical and theoretical knowledge, made him a sought-after man. “In the six years I spent at the Tata Football Academy, he was the director for about four years.

As kids, we marvelled at his ability to explain things in a way that was easy to understand. One can have the knowledge, but to transfer it to a bunch of youngsters without making things complicated requires a different kind of skill that he possessed,” said former India captain Rennedy Singh, who later played under Banerjee at the club level. Above all, Banerjee won the trust of his players and became friends with them, like an elder brother early in his career as coach and a father figure later on. Players don’t recall other coaches visiting them at home when they were injured or making an effort to study their background so that he could interact better with them. Indian football may have had more gifted players, but it rarely had another character who enriched it in so many roles.

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