'He genuinely cared for people', former footballer Harjinder Singh recalls time spent with PK Banerjee

New Delhi: Unacquainted with Bengali eating habits at his prime, former footballer Harjinder Singh on Sunday recalled how PK Banerjee's wife helped him with separating flesh from a bony fish, after heady doses of football lessons by her legendary husband.

Banerjee passed away in Kolkata on Friday after a prolonged illness. He was 83.

A big part of Banerjee's legacy was his man-management skills, and Harjinder shared his experience of the same, stating that he "gave each player his due" and knew how to bring the best out of each player.

 He genuinely cared for people, former footballer Harjinder Singh recalls time spent with PK Banerjee

Former India football legend PK Banerjee has died at 83. Image: Twitter/Mumbai City FC

Harjinder shared an anecdote: "Mr Banerjee's family was attached to football and often he would invite us to his home for dinner. I remember this one incident vividly — I had just come from Punjab and was not able to eat the fish curry because of the bones.

"Seeing my plight, he caringly asked his wife to separate the bones just for me. He said to me: 'Tujhe maine ghar bulaya aur tune fish hi nahi khayi toh kya faayda hua' (I invited you home and if you don't eat the fish, it is pointless).

"It was quite amazing and showed that he genuinely cared for people."

Banerjee's legacy and contribution to Indian football is unmatched, according to Harjinder.

"Mr Banerjee's death came as a big shock to me. I was instantly reminded of the wonderful memories we shared. All of it came flooding back to me -- the places we went to, the conversations we had, the things we achieved -- all of it was flashing before my eyes," he said.

"He was a man of football and because of it both of us had a solid bond. His contribution to the sport is unmatched," Harjinder, who took to coaching the now-defunct JCT after retirement, added.

The 50-year-old Harjinder represented India from 1974 to 1983, playing in two Asian Games (1978 and 1982) and numerous other international competitions. He was a part of the Indian side that won the Asian Youth Championships in 1974 and was subsequently named in the Asian All Stars team.

He enjoyed a stellar career at club level as well, where he represented Leaders Club and JCT Mills in his native Punjab, and spent two successful years in Kolkata with East Bengal.

"I have trained under a number of excellent coaches in my career but PK Banerjee was the best I have played under. The knowledge of football he had and the manner in which he spoke made him stand out.

"Honestly, I have never seen anything like it. When he used to speak, it was so powerful and everyone used to be all ears," Harjinder, currently working as head coach at the Chandigarh Football Academy, opined.

Harjinder moved to East Bengal in 1979 after a number of years in Punjab. But, unfortunately, his start was marred by injury troubles. However, it was Banerjee's assured presence that allowed him to adjust quickly to life in Bengal and the pressure that came with it.

"When I went to Calcutta, I started having a few injury problems. I remember each and every scene of how worried Mr Banerjee was because of my injury and how he used to follow up on my check-ups and status daily.

"He used to say 'Mujhe Harjinder fit chahiye hi chahiye' (I want Harjinder to get fit quickly). He made sure personally that I was taken care of well and made me feel valued," he mentioned.

"There is intense pressure on the coaches in Bengal and the rivalry between the clubs is at another level. With a new signing and key player injured, any coach can come under pressure. However, Mr Banerjee remained composed and stood by me."

Banerjee took over the reins as India coach in 1981 for the Merdeka Cup, where the team reached the semifinals after defeating the UAE and Indonesia.

For Harjinder, the tournament was the "best time" of his career as he was adjudged the competition's best midfielder and scored a memorable brace in a 2-2 draw against hosts Malaysia.

Updated Date: Mar 22, 2020 15:38:35 IST



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