The former Indian national team player is one of the best footballers to have graced the sport from the country.
It goes without saying that IM Vijayan is one of the biggest legends of Indian football and the 51-year-old is now all set for more recognition, as the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has recommended him for the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian honour in India.
Like most Indian footballers, IM Vijayan also had humble beginnings. He started off as a soda bottle and cigarette-seller at the Thrissur Corporation Stadium, at the mere age of 12. From there, he went on to play in various regional Sevens Football tournaments to supplement his income and support his family. Five years later, he got his first opportunity in professional football with Kerala Police FC. The rest is history, as he went on to play for the likes of Mohun Bagan, JCT, FC Kochin, East Bengal and Churchill Brothers. At one point, he was also the highest-paid player in the country.
He led JCT to the inaugural National Football League title (the predecessor of the I-League) in 1996-97. The magnificent scissor-kick goal which he scored against Malaysia-based Perlis FA in the 1995 Scissors Cup, is still much-talked-about and one of the best goals scored by an Indian.
Vijayan made his national team debut in 1989. One of the most memorable moments of his international career was the goal he scored against Bhutan in the 1999 SAFF Cup, when he found the back of the net after just 12 seconds from kick-off. To date, it is the eighth-fastest goal scored in the history of international football.
Overall, he scored 43 goals across 79 international appearances and was awarded the ‘AIFF Player of the Year’ thrice – in 1993, 1997 and 1999 respectively. The 2003 Arjuna Award-winner is also the fifth most-capped Indian player and holds third place in the list of the all-time top scorers for the Blue Tigers.
Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Gostha Pai, Sailen Manna and Oinam Bembem Devi are the Indian footballers who have been conferred with the Padma Shri title previously. Moreover, the contributions made by IM Vijayan to the sport and to the country in general are no less important and it would be quite fitting to honour him with the Padma Shri as well.