'An inspirational figure'

'An inspirational figure'

Team-mates tribute

Staring into the afternoon sun with a cataract-infected eye from his humble abode, Olympian footballer T Shanmugam had little clue of the passing of his old friend Sailendra Nath Manna. But when he did find out, the 91-year-old half-back took a deep breath and reminisced.

Manna, who captained the Indian team at the 1952 Olympics and to the gold medal in the 1951 Asian Games,  died in Kolkata on Monday afternoon. He was 87.

“He was my captain. He was a fullback and I played left-half. Those times we had a 5-3-2-1 formation, and that’s the same formation we used during the Olympics in 1952,” said Shanmugam, who was also part of the Asian Games winning team.

“He was the one responsible for us, and everything we did. We always obeyed him because he was an inspiring figure. He was an absolute gentleman. He never spoke harshly to any of us, always treated every member of the team as equals and he was a very good captain,” said Shanmugam, who suffers from severe short-term memory loss.

“From eating, to going out, to doing things outside the field, we always did it together, and he was the man behind it. He believed in making things work, and according to him the best way to do it was to stick together. There was no discrimination.”

Talking about his relationship with Manna, who was adjuged the country’s footballer of the millenium by the All India Football Federation in 2000, Shanmugam said: “We shared a nice relationship. In fact, he even came home once when I fractured my arm during one of the matches. We kept in touch over the phone too. There is not one particular memory of him... we played many matches together and all of it seems like one good memory to me.”

After going through his interactions with Manna several times over, Shanmugam once again asked if Manna was alive, and when told  he wasn’t, he said: “I am very sad to lose a good friend, a great football player and my captain. I convey my regards to the family.”