Soccer legend Sailen Manna dead

Kolkata, Feb 27 (IANS) Indian soccer legend Sailendra Nath Manna, popularly known as Sailen Manna, died at a private hospital here Monday due to old age complications. He was 87, and leaves behind his wife and daughter, family sources said.

Gentleman footballer Manna, who was ailing for quite some time, was admitted to the AMRI Hospital, Salt Lake, around 11 p.m. Sunday. The end came about three hours later.

As news of his death spread Monday, a pall of gloom descended on the Kolkata Maidan - the hub of sports in the city. A large number of footballers, including Manna's contemporaries and those much junior to him, thronged his Salt Lake house in hundreds.

However, there was some dispute over whether Manna's body would be taken to Mohun Bagan Club - with which he was associated for over six decades. But in the end, following objections from his family members, who accused the club of forgetting Manna in his last years, the flower-bedecked body put in a hearse was instead taken to the Rabindra Sadan and kept for public viewing.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, state Sports Minister Madan Mitra, politicians and sports lovers paid respects to Manna with red roses and tube rose sticks. Banerjee then joined over a couple of thousand mourners who walked barefoot on his last journey to Keoratala ghat where the body was consigned to flames.

"Manna-da was a perfect gentleman both on and off the field. He was never booked during his long career. It was an amazing achievement and spoke volumes of the dignity with which he played," said former Indian Olympic captain Samar (Badru) Banerjee, who played for the national team under Manna's leadership.

Rated as one of the best defenders the country has ever produced, Manna was adjudged the country's footballer of the millennium by the All India Football Federation in 2000. Known for his keen game sense, Manna was famed for his anticipation, covering and set pieces.

He led India to the gold in the inaugural Asian Games in New Delhi and also captained the country in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and the 1954 Manila Asian Games.

Under his captaincy, India emerged champions in the Quadrangular tournament - also featuring Burma (now Myanmar), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Pakistan - consecutively in 1952, 1953 and 1954.

Manna's performance as national team skipper drew wholesome praise and the England Football Association named him in its 1953 Yearbook as one of the 10 best captains of the world. To this date,he remains the only Asian to have been thus honoured.

Indian soccer players then played barefoot, as they lacked the funds to buy boots. In the London Olympics, where India bowed out after losing to France 1-2, Princess Margaret of the British royal family asked Manna whether the players did not feel frightened to take on their opponents who wore boots. "We could not say that there was no funds for buying boots," Manna said later.

Apart from his 14-match international career as player, Manna coached the national team in the 1961 and 1968 Mardeka Cup, and became the second footballer after Goshtho Pal to receive the Padma Shri in 1970.

Born Sep 1, 1924, Manna joined Mohun Bagan in 1942 at the young age of 18, and continued to don the green and maroon jersey till his retirement in 1960. In local football circles, Mohun Bagan and Manna have been synonymous with each other.

After calling it a day as a player, Manna joined as Mohun Bagan coach in 1961, and in later years served the club administration as football secretary and assistant secretary. The club acknowledged its gratefulness by conferring on him its highest award Mohun Bagan Ratna in 2001.