Paying his tribute to Maradona, who died at the age of 60 in Buenos Aires on Wednesday night following a cardiac arrest, Bhutia said from a young age he always aspired to play like the football legend.
“He (Maradona) has been one of the most inspirational players for me since the time I started watching football. I’ve grown up watching him and wanted to be like him,” the ‘Sikkimese Sniper’ told PTI.
“It was just because of him I got up early in the morning to play in those wet and muddy grounds. I was all inspired by Maradona because I wanted to play like him. Definitely he had a big impact in my career.”
Bhutia was a 10-year-old kid when the iconic Argentine led his country to the FIFA World Cup in 1986, and then in 1990 when he led the Albiceleste to the final after a win over Italy in the penalty shootout.
Inspired by those moments, Bhutia too made his foray into football, beginning with a stellar performance in the 1992 Subroto Cup.
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<p>Diego Maradona holds up the FIFA World Cup trophy after Argentina’s 3-2 victory over West Germany at the 1986 World Cup final at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. (AP Photo)</p>
The Indian football legend had a chance to meet his childhood hero on the sidelines of an exhibition match at the Saltlake Stadium during the Argentine’s visit to Kolkata in December 2008.
“We just shook hands. I was very, very nervous. My heart was beating fast. To meet my childhood hero whom I had worshipped would remain as was one of my best memories,” Bhutia said.
“It’s the biggest loss for world football. There will be no other big player to have played the game than Maradona in this era of world football.”
Meanwhile shifting gears, Bhuita made no bones unturned when he said that he would be rooting for his former club East Bengal in Friday’s first ever ISL derby against ATK Mohun Bagan.
The Robbie Fowler-coached SC East Bengal made a last minute entry into the top-flight ISL.
“East Bengal is an unknown team and I’m hoping that they surprise everybody. Hope they do well,” Bhutia said.
Asked to predict a scoreline, he said: “It’s very difficult to say. I’ve not seen how they play but I want East Bengal to win.”
“I’m very excited to see the big two clubs play in the ISL and meet for the first time.”
ATKMB started their ISL campaign with a win against Kerala Blasters in a match where they looked rusty in the first-half and missed many chances.
“(Antonios) Habas (ATKMB coach) is always a slow starter. His style is that everybody has to work hard and that’s why he has always delivered,” Bhutia signed off.