As former Indian football team head coach Sukhwinder Singh was named as the winner of the Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime achievement in Sports and Games, wishes poured in for him from all quarters. Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia was the first to congratulate his ex-coach, stating that Sukhwinder “fully deserves” the Award.
“I am happy he won it. Sukhi-sir is one of the most deserving coaches to have won the award. He fully deserves it. Congratulations Sukhwinder Ji! He was also the one to give me my first match as the India captain. I will always be grateful to him for that,” Bhaichung said to the-aiff.com.
Another former Blue Tigers captain Bruno Coutinho believes that it was Sukhwinder who had enhanced India’s performance after he came in.
“The Dhyan Chand Award is a great honour for someone like him. He was a great coach, technically very sound. What was great about him was that he enhanced our performance, and under his guidance, we did really well,” said Coutinho.
Renedy Singh, who had made his debut under the coaching of Sukhwinder Singh, believes that he had turned the Blue Tigers from a team that would lose against difficult opposition, to a team that would compete against them.
“He is arguably one of the most successful Indian coaches for the national team. Sukhwinder sir was the coach under whom I made my national team debut. He really turned our team around from one that used to lose by a big margin against sides like Malaysia to a team that could give a tough fight to some of the best Asian teams like UAE and Uzbekistan,” said Renedy.
The former India winger argues that one of Sukhwinder’s biggest achievements in the India dugout was putting out a fine performance in the first round 2002 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, where India missed out on qualification for the second round by a point.
Pitted against the likes of UAE, Yemen and Brunei, India collected 11 points in Group 8, with three wins, two draws, and a solitary loss, falling short of qualification to the next round by a single point to UAE. In the midst of these results, was a famous 1-0 victory that the Blue Tigers earned in Bangalore (now Bengaluru) against a UAE side that made it all the way to the FIFA World Cup Play-offs, where they eventually lost to Iran.
While a second-half strike by Jules Alberto off a Khalid Jamil long-throw did the trick, many at that time, thought that it was indeed Bhaichung Bhutia, who had scored the goal, as the latter had followed the ball into the net, seemingly touching it with his studs right after it had crossed the line.
“It was an amazing game. I remember everyone thought that I had scored that goal. Even Sukhi sir, after the match thought I had scored it,” Bhaichung recalled with a smile. “But I had to later clarify to everyone that it was indeed Jules Alberto, who scored, and not me.”
Sukhwinder had coached India in 36 international matches and has a 47.22 per cent winning rate to his name. He was also in charge of the India U-13 and the Pailan Arrows from 2011 to 2012. The 71-year-old has won the SAFF Cup twice in 1999 and 2009, and also clinched bronze with India in the 1999 SAF Games.
An aspect about Sukhwinder that made him such an effective coach, feels Renedy, was that he always had his sights set on the next match, no matter what. “Even after that famous win against UAE in Bangalore, he reiterated that we should stay calm and not go overboard with our celebrations. We had a crucial game coming up next week against Yemen, and we needed to focus on that,” said Renedy.
“That was a really great quality in him. He really made us see the bigger picture. No matter if you win or you lose, once the game is over, you shift your focus to the next one. He used to tell us that football is always about getting ready for the next game. As a player that really helped me focus on the more important aspects,” he informed.