Soccer legend Sailen Manna no more

Kolkata: 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 two hours later.

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.

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. Manna had then replied that his team felt more comfortable without boots.

In the inaugural Asiad, hosted by New Delhi only four years after independence in 1951, the Manna-led Indian team beat Iran 1-0 in the final to claim the gold, leading to festivities across the nation.

Manna became the second footballer after Goshto Pal to receive the Padma Shri in 1970.

Born on Sep 1, 1924, Manna joined Mohun Bagan in 1942 at the young age of 18 after a short stint with the local league’s second division side Howrah Union, 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.

Known for his simple lifestyle, honesty and dedication to the game, Manna till a few years before his death remained an enthusiastic participant in social and charity programmes. He was a regular in taking part in walks organised for a cause. While other celebrities would board their cars after obliging shutterbugs, the fit-as-an-athlete Manna always walked the whole stretch, and always with a smile. (IANS)

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