'Manna was a perfect gentleman'

Sailen Manna’s contemporaries on Monday hailed the legendary Indian footballer as one who combined the on-field toughness of a defender with dignity and ability to intimidate the opponents without ever being rough.

“Manna-da never retaliated. He was a perfect gentleman both on and off the field,” said former Indian Olympic captain Samar (Badru) Banerjee, who played for the national team under Manna’s leadership.

Recalling an incident showing Manna’s toughness, Banerjee said once Calcutta Club instructed a well-built British footballer to ensure that Mohun Bagan’s Manna left the field with an injury. The player charged at Manna’s knee in the initial minutes.

“Manna-da was in severe pain. It seemed he would collapse and was stretchered out. But within a short while he came back, wearing a knee cap.”

Manna-da even fired home a free kick to restore parity for his team, said Banerjee, who watched the game as a spectator.

Banerjee said Manna had a good physique and raw power. “He never indulged in rough play, but still he could intimidate even the tallest and sturdiest of European forwards.”

Referring to Manna’s affectionate nature, Banerjee said he was always protective about juniors and saw to it that they felt comfortable in the team. “I myself received lot of affection from him when I joined Mohun Bagan in 1952,” he said.

Yesteryears’ stalwart P K  Banerjee said Manna was a player of all-round ability. “Even his opponents loved him. He had excellent anticipation, covering and was wonderful in set-pieces.”

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