Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Some of these players have gone on to achieve success beyond imagination.
Football in India only started properly from the late 1800s and more so from the early 1900s. The British used to play the sport for recreation since it picked up fame in the 1800s in their country.
But in order to identify the root of the rise of Indian football, it would be safe to assume that all of it started with Mohun Bagan’s win over the East Yorkshire Regiment to win the IFA Shield in 1911. Since then, football has always been close to the heart of many Bengalis. The state has a rich history of producing top class footballers, as some of the best figures of all-time in Indian football came from this region with several Bengali footballers making it to the top level.
Here are the top 10 Bengali footballers in the history of Indian football.
10. Biswajit Bhattacharya
Regarded as one of the greatest strikers of the 20th century in Indian football, Biswajit Bhattacharya had a memorable career. He enjoyed a lot of success with East Bengal in the 1980s, scoring a bunch of important goals every season.
Bhattacharya earned his fame for scoring against Poland in the 1984 Nehru Cup for India, impressing many with his astonishing performance. With hundreds of goals and assists in his career, Bhattacharya was an extremely prolific goal-scorer. He won all major domestic titles with East Bengal and is a legend in Indian football.
9. Sudip Chatterjee
Chatterjee’s versatility and reliability were the two reasons behind his success in a memorable career. He played for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in the 1980s and rose high with the Indian national team.
Initially a defender, also converted to a midfield role later in his career. He captained the Indian football team for many years, in competitions like the Asian Games, Nehru Cup and two Asia Cups. Chatterjee won AIFF Player of the Year award in 1986 before winning the AIFF Player of the Decade award in 1994. Sudip was considered as one of the finest midfielders ever produced in Indian football and won many major trophies in his career.
8. Sisir Ghosh
As Mohun Bagan went through highs and lows between 1980-90, Sisir Ghosh was the one to often bring them joy. He scored many goals in his career and also captained the Mohun Bagan.
Ghosh was known for his vicious headers and aerial ability, which helped him score a number of goals. He remains a memorable figure among the Mohun Bagan fans and is still revered for his excellent goalscoring ability and leadership skills that brought much joy to the fans.
7. Subrata Bhattacharya
Despite having a top reputation among bengali footballers and football fans as the man who stopped Pele, Subrata Bhattacharya’s career was not defined by that one game. He was one of the toughest centre-backs during his time and earned a reputation for being nearly immovable. A Mariner through and through, he played 16 years for them.
His rivalry against East Bengal striker Chima Okorie defined the heightened success of the Calcutta Football League in the 80s. A towering, composed defender who knew how to be in the right place at the right time, Bhattacharya acted as the leader in Mohun Bagan’s defence for years. He led them to win many silverware and finished his career with over 800 appearances for the club.
6. Subhash Bhowmick
Subhash Bhowmick was one of the major faces of football in Kolkata during the 1970s, having played for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. The majority of his success, however, came with East Bengal as he won the IFA Shield and CFL with them. Even on the national stage, Bhowmick was one of India’s biggest threats in the 1970s.
The clinical striker was part of the team that won the bronze medal in the 1970 Asian Games. Bhowmick also scored a hattrick against the Philippines in the 1971 Merdeka Tournament. He won numerous prestigious awards and scored more than 300 goals across his career.
5. Krishanu Dey
Krishanu Dey earned the nickname ‘Indian Maradona’ – because of his exceptional skills. An extremely talented centre-forward, Dey enjoyed a lot of success with East Bengal in his memorable career. He scored more than 150 goals in the domestic competitions and 10 for the Indian national team.
After Bhowmick, Dey remains only the second Bengali footballer to have scored an International hat-trick, making him one of the top Bengali footballers of all-time. To sum up his incredible legacy, the late footballer has his own statue in Kolkata. The Indian Football Association (IFA) has renamed its U19 league after him.
4. PK Banerjee
PK Banerjee might have represented Bihar in the Santosh Trophy during his career, but he was a Bengali footballer through and through and one of the top footballers from the region. He spent the majority of his career at East Bengal, playing 200+ games for them and scoring nearly 100 goals! The striker was also a huge star at the International level. He scored against France in the 1960 Summer Olympics, in which India held them to a 1-1 draw!
Banerjee helped India win the gold medal in the 1962 Asian Games, as well as winning other precious awards. He has been recognized as the Indian Footballer of the 20th century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics. He won a FIFA Order of Merit, as well as the Arjuna Award & Padma Shri. Arguably the greatest striker India has ever produced, he passed away on March 20, 2020.
3. Gostha Pal
Just because of how good he was, Gostha Pal earned the nickname ‘Chiner Pracheer’ (The Wall of China). The centre-back was an absolute colossus at the back, dominating the best of strikers. He even outplayed the British footballers, making them look weak. Pal played 24 years at Mohun Bagan (from 1912-1936), accepting an extremely minimal payment.
He’s recognized as one of the Mariners’ greatest-ever captains and arguably their best-ever defender. Pal’s legacy is stretched all through Kolkata – as there’s a statue of him in the Gostho Pal Sarani. He also enjoyed a solid career with the Indian national team and his never-say-die attitude made him an iconic figure in West Bengal.
2. Sailen Manna
After Gostha Pal bid adieu to Mohun Bagan, Sailen Manna came up as his natural successor for the Mariners. He enjoyed an incredible career, both domestically and at the International stage as well. A hardened, aggressive defender with incredible mentality, the centre-back was known for his incredible game-reading ability and being in the right place at the right time.
Manna was captain of the Indian team that won the 1951 Asian Games gold medal and produced some amazing performances in the 1950s. Manna was named among the 10 best captains in the world by the Football Association (FA) in 1953. He won the Padma Shri in 1971 and the Footballer of the Millennium title from the AIFF in 2000. Manna remains among the best players to have ever played in India.
1. Chuni Goswami
Chuni Goswami can perhaps be perfectly termed as Mr. Perfectionist for his exploits during his career. He played both football and cricket, even though the majority of his success came with the former. Goswami played 14 years at Mohun Bagan, while making 50+ appearances with the Indian football team. He remains one of the greatest top Bengali footballers of all-time.
His incredible dribbling ability, skill on the ball, and finishing ability made him an absolute menace to anyone. He was so good that Tottenham Hotspur actually wanted to sign him in the 50s. It’s safe to say that there will not be another Chuni Goswami to come out of West Bengal any time soon.