PK banerjee

Legendary Indian footballer PK Banerjee passed away after battling a prolonged illness, in Kolkata on March 20. He was 83. (IANS file photo)

NEW DELHI (IANS) — Tributes flowed in March 20 for legendary former football player and coach P.K. Banerjee who died at age 83.

Apart from being rated as one of the greatest players to have played for the country, Banerjee also embarked upon a highly successful coaching career and is credited with overseeing the careers of many great Indian players.

One of his most famous wards is former Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia, who played for East Bengal under Banerjee and won the 1997 Fed Cup final. "He was a great human being. A very happy soul and a father figure to me," Bhutia told IANS.

"I was fortunate to play one of my greatest matches under him. It is a big loss to Indian football. He is one of the greatest footballers and coaches India has ever seen."

Mohun Bagan great Subrata Bhattacharya was part of the team that famously held Pele's New York Cosmos 2-2 in 1977. Bagan was coached by Banerjee at the time. "He taught us what no one ever could. As a player and coach, Pradipda's contribution to Indian football can never be matched and I don't need to say this," Bhattacharya told IANS.

"He was suffering from a long time. I don't know what to say. Yes, this was coming but his loss is something that cannot be put in words. I am flooded with memories."

Bhattacharya's son-in-law and current Indian captain Sunil Chhetri took to Twitter to remember Banerjee. "I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr P.K. Banerjee as well as to the entire Indian football fraternity. He was a pioneer in every sense of the word, and his achievements will forever have a place in Indian footballing history. Rest in peace," said the all-time highest goalscorer for India.

Banerjee's brother Prasun Banerjee, who himself has captained the Indian football team, said he lost a father figure and not just an elder brother. "He was not just my elder brother. He was like my father," Banerjee, 64, said moments after P.K.'s death in the afternoon.

"We lost our father in 1960. He was the one who raised me. I am whatever I am because of him. He was my family," said the former India and Mohun Bagan left-back who was known for his brilliant left foot.

The All India Football Federation flew its flag at half-mast on Friday to honor Banerjee. "As a mark of respect to #PKBanerjee, the Indian Football legend, #AIFF has decided that it's flag will fly at half-mast today in #AIFF Delhi Headquarters," tweeted AIFF president Praful Patel.

"It's sad to hear that PK Banerjee, one of India's Greatest Footballers is no more. His contribution to Indian Football will never be forgotten. I share the grief. He will stay synonymous with the golden generation of @IndianFootball. Pradipda, you will remain alive in our hearts!"

The Asian Football Confederation also paid tribute to Banerjee. "We at AFC condole the passing of former Indian captain, coach and technical director Mr Pradip Kumar Banerjee," said the AFC in a tweet.

Tributes also came in from outside the football community. Cricket great Sachin Tendulkar tweeted: "Heartfelt condolences on the passing of the great Indian footballer PK Banerjee! Have fond memories of meeting him on a few occasions and the positivity he spread. May his soul Rest in Peace."

His former team mate and captain Sourav Ganguly spoke about the "great influence" Banerjee had on his career. "Lost a very dear person today...someone who I loved and respected enormously...someone who had so much influence in my career when I was an 18 year old boy...his positivity was infectious...may his soul rest in peace...lost two very dear persons this week," tweeted Ganguly.

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