Baichung Bhutia (born 15 December 1976) is a well-known Indian footballer who plays as a striker. Bhutia is considered to be the torchbearer of Indian football in the international arena.
He was born into a farming family in Tinkitam, South Sikkim, His parents were originally not keen on Bhutia’s interest in sports. However, after encouragement from his uncle, Karma Bhutia, he started his education in St. Xaviers School, Pakyong, East Sikkim, and at the age of nine he won a football scholarship from SAI to attend the Tashi Namgyal Academy in Gangtok.
His performance at the 1992 Subroto Cup, where he won the “Best Player” award, brought him to the notice of the football establishment. Former India goalkeeper Bhaskar Ganguly spotted his talent and helped him make the transition to Calcutta football. In 1993, at the age of sixteen, he left school to join the professional East Bengal Club in Calcutta. Two years later, he transferred to JCT Mills in Phagwara, which went on to win the India National Football League in the 1996–97 season. Bhutia was the top goal scorer in the league.
Bhutia scored his international debut for India against Uzbekistan in the 1995 Nehru Cup becoming India’s youngest ever goal scorer, at 19. He became East Bengal team captain in the 1998–99 season, during which his club finished second behind Salgaocar in the league. Furthermore he became the 19th footballer to receive the Arjuna Award in 1999, which the Government of India gives out to athletes to recognise their “outstanding achievements” in national sports. In 1999, he became the first Indian footballer to play professional football in Europe, when he signed up to play for the English club Bury F.C. On 15 April 2000, he scored his first goal in the English league in the game against Chesterfield. A recurring knee injury limited him to only three games in his final season at Bury, and he was released after the club was placed in administration.
In 2002, he returned to India and played for the Mohun Bagan for a year. Afterwards, he again returned to his old club East Bengal, helping them to win the ASEAN Club Championship and was named the “man of the match” in the winning match over Tero Sasana. He also finished as the top scorer of the Championship with nine goals. He signed up to play for Perak FA, the Malaysian championship club, from August to October 2003 on loan and returned to East Bengal Club for the regular season. He continued to play for East Bengal until the end of the 2005–06 season. In his final season there he was awarded the “Player of the National Football League” by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) in a season where he scored 12 goals. He signed an endorsement deal with Adidas in November 2003.
In 2005, Bhutia signed for another Malaysian club, Selangor MK Land. On 15 June 2006, he joined back with Mohun Bagan. Bhutia won the “Indian Player of the Year” for the second time during I-League in 2008. In winning the award, he became the second footballer to win it more than once; the other was I. M. Vijayan.
On 26 January 2008, India’s Republic Day, Bhutia was chosen for the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award, for his contribution to Indian football. The same year, Bhutia was solicited to run with the Olympic torch in India, but he refused to carry the torch to show support for the Tibetan independence movement.
Baichung Bhutia, signed one-year contract with East Bengal for a fourth time on 22 June 2009. On 28 October 2010, he started Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools in Delhi in partnership with football by Carlos Quieroz and Nike. He married his longtime girlfriend Madhuri Tipnis, a hotel professional, on 30 December 2004 in his native village of Tinkitam in South Sikkim. His wife Madhuri gave birth to twins on 8 April 2010. The first one is a girl and the other is a boy.
He is also India’s most capped player, and in the 2009 Nehru Cup he received his 100th international cap. Off the field, Bhutia is known for winning the reality television programme Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, the Indian version of the international series Dancing with the Stars, where he partnered with choreographer Sonia Jaffer, but it caused him much controversy with his then-club Mohun Bagan.
In 2011, Bhutia joined his own United Sikkim FC. The Sikkimese government has built a stadium, the Baichung Stadium in Namchi, the district headquarters, in honour of his achievements.