Football is India's second most popular sport, after cricket, in terms of player involvement, and the third most popular sport in terms of TV viewership, trailing long-time leader Cricket and the re-emerging Kabaddi. The Indian Super Competition, India's current top domestic football league, was founded as an unrecognised professional league with eight teams (now 11) to promote Indian football throughout the country and beyond the world. The league debuted in 2014 and was recognised as the second national football league after the third season, running concurrently with the I-League, making India one of the few countries with two fully recognised football leagues.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Indian national football team had a lot of success. The lack of good long-term planning and the emergence of cricket—in which the country became immensely successful and famous—were the causes for football's decline in the country. Not to mention the team's outstanding achievement in qualifying for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. India was unable to compete in the event for a variety of reasons, one of which was the requirement to play barefoot. Before the downturn in the 1970s, India produced several top-class footballers under the direction of Syed Abdul Rahim. Let’s take a look at the top 10 legends in Indian football. This list doesn’t include any active player.
10. Climax Lawrence
Climax Lawrence has dedicated a decade of his life to the Indian national team. The Goan-born midfielder is one of India's best players. Climax has played for a variety of clubs, including Salgoacar, East Bengal, and Dempo, among others. Coach Stephen Constantine invited him to the Indian national football squad in 2002. In the AFC Challenge Cup, he scored the game-winning goal in the 91st minute to give India a 1-0 victory over Afghanistan. On February 1, 2012, he announced his retirement from the national team.
9. Gostha Pal
Gostha Pal was born in 1896 in what is now Bangladesh, and his football career took off when he joined the famous Mohun Bagan at the age of 16 after being scouted by the legendary Kalicharan Mitra. Pal was regarded as one of India's top defenders during his time, despite the fact that he used to play barefoot. He was a right-back who was noted for his bravery and was dubbed "The Chiner Pacheer" (The Wall of China). From 1912 through 1936, he was a member of Mohun Bagan and captained the team from 1921 and 1936. In 1924, he was also named India's captain. Pal, who had a commanding presence on the field, was also the first Indian player to lead his country in an international match. The renowned footballer retired in 1935, but he left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of his admirers. In 1962, he became the first footballer to be awarded the prestigious ‘Padma Shri' award.
8. Mohammed Salim
Salim was best remembered for his involvement in the famed Mohammedan SC club of the 1930s, which won the Calcutta Football League five times in a row. The first Indian footballer to represent his country in Europe. Mohammed Salim was an Indian pharmacist and chemist who became enamoured with football and played for Mohammedan Sporting. After impressing on trial, he "escaped" to Britain via Cairo in 1936 and joined Celtic FC, a Scottish power. His European experience didn't last long, though, as he got homesick and went home.
7. Peter Thangaraj
Peter Thangaraj is without a doubt the greatest goalkeeper India has ever produced. Thangaraj, who was born in the former state of Hyderabad, began his career as a centre-forward with the Madras Regimental Centre (MRC) before finding his way between the goalposts. He competed for India at the Olympics in 1956 and 1960, as well as the Asian Games in 1958, 1962, and 1966. In 1958, he was awarded Asia's top goalie. In 1967, he received the Arjuna Award.
6. Jarnail Singh Dhillon
Jarnail Singh was one of India's top defenders, although he also played as a striker on occasion. He competed in the 1960 Olympics and the 1962 Asian Games for India. He sealed his position as an Indian football legend at the 1962 Games, as he scored in both the semi-final and final games while playing as a striker. In 1964, he received the renowned Arjuna Award. In the year 2000, he passed away.
5. Sailendra Nath Manna
Sailen Manna was a left-back who was well-known for his set-piece abilities, because to his powerful shot and free kicks. He was an important member of the Olympic team that competed in 1948. India won the Asian Games Gold Medal in 1951 and the Quadrangular Tournament for four consecutive years from 1952 to 1956 under the leadership of the dynamic defender. In 1942, he joined Mohun Bagan. He would go on to play for the team for 19 years before retiring, and in 2001 he was awarded the title of Mohun Bagan Ratna.
4. Chunni Goswami
Subimal Chuni Goswamy, also known as Chuni Goswamy, was a versatile footballer. He was the captain of the Indian squad that won the Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962 and the Asian Cup Soccer Tournament in Israel in 1964. During his playing days, Goswami was said to have rejected down the opportunity to join Tottenham Hotspur in England. In 50 games for India, he scored 32 goals. He has also represented Bengal in first-class cricket and has competed in the Ranji Trophy. In 1963, he was awarded the Arjuna award. In 1983, he was also given the Padma Shri.
3. IM Vijayan
Another name that needs no explanation is Inivalappil Mani Vijayan. He was largely regarded as one of India's top strikers of all time. Vijayan's storey is a classic rags-to-riches tale. Before the Kerala Police football club realised his footballing skill, he used to sell soda bottles in stadiums. He was the best-paid footballer in India at one point, having played for Mohun Bagan, FC Kochin, East Bengal, and other clubs. In 79 games for India, he has scored roughly 40 goals. His most notable moment was in the SAF Games in 1999 when he scored after only 12 seconds against Bhutan. It remains the third-fastest goal ever scored in international football.
2. PK Banerjee
Pradip Kumar Banerjee was a popular right-winger in the 1960s. He was India's captain at the 1960 Olympics and the 1962 Asian Games, where the country won gold. He was India's captain at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, where he scored an equaliser in a 1-1 tie with France. He competed three times for India at the Merdeka Cup in Kuala Lumpur, winning silver in 1959 and 1964 and bronze in 1965. In 1990, he received the Padma Shri honour and was chosen Indian Footballer of the Century by the IFFHS. In 2004, he was awarded the FIFA Order of Merit, the organization's highest honour. Banerjee passed away on March 20, 2020 due to age-related difficulties.
1. Bhaichung Bhutia
In the international arena, Bhutia is regarded as the Indian football's torchbearer. Because of his football shooting skills, he is known as the Sikkimese Sniper. Along with I. M. Vijayan, he was a household name in Indian football in the 1990s and early 2000s. He became the Indian national team's youngest ever goalscorer when he was only 18 years old. In 84 appearances for his country, he scored 40 goals. When he joined FC Bury in England in 1999, Bhutia became the first Indian footballer to sign a contract with a European club. He has won the Nehru Cup, LG Cup, SAFF Championship three times, and the AFC Challenge Cup on an international level.