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PK Banerjee, legend of Indian football, dies at 83

Pradip Kumar (PK) Banerjee, one of the greatest names in Indian football, has died in Kolkata on Friday at 12:40 pm, aged 83 after a prolonged illness. He was among those who put Indian football on an international stage through his feats, first as a record-breaking goalscorer and then as the most successful Indian coach.

Banerjee was awarded the FIFA Order of Merit, the highest honour given by FIFA in 2004. He was also the first Indian footballer to win the Arjuna Award - he won in 1961, the year the awards were instituted.

Banerjee was born on 23 June 1936, in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal. He made his debut for the national team in the 1955 Quadrangular tournament in Dacca (presently Dhaka) at the age of 19. He also represented India in three editions of the Asian Games: Tokyo (1958), Jakarta (1962) and Bangkok (1966).

Banerjee was admitted to the Medica Superspecialty Hospital in Kolkata on February 8, after suffering respiratory problem due to pneumonia and with underlying history of Parkinson's Disease, dementia and heart problems. On March 2, he was moved to the intensive care unit and put on ventilation support after his health deteriorated.

As a player, Banerjee was associated with the golden age of the Indian national team. He made 36 appearances for India between 1955-67, scoring 19 goals.

The high point was India winning the gold at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, still seen as the country's greatest footballing achievement. He was part of the team that played at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics - reaching the semi-finals - and captained India at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, where he scored the equalizer against France in a 1-1 draw.

Franco Fortunato, a member of the 1962 Asian Games gold medal-winning team, described that side to ESPN last year: "When we headed to the 1962 Asian Games, we had three truly great footballers -- PK on the right, Chuni Goswami on inside-left and Tulsidas Balaram on outside-left...We just knew anything could happen with these three - we just knew they would always score."

His club career was remarkable in that he didn't play for the Big Three of the Calcutta Maidan (East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting, Mohun Bagan); almost his entire career was with unfancied Eastern Railway, with whom he won the Calcutta League in 1958. That was the only time since Independence that a team outside the Big Three would win the league title.

He then went on to have a successful coaching career, beginning with East Bengal. However, his most successful tenure as coach was with Mohun Bagan, with whom he achieved the historic feat in 1977 of winning the IFA Shield, Rovers Cup and Durand Cup in one season. His 54 trophies as coach of club and country are the most for an Indian, 13 more than the late Amal Dutta who comes in second place.

He first became the joint national coach in 1970 and held the position a couple more times in his career. Former India striker Biswajit Bhattacharya, who himself has had CFL title wins with East Bengal, told ESPN that PK's excellence as a player made him an ideal coach. "He was a gentle stalwart. He could break down complex things into very simple terms," said Bhattacharya, who made his India debut as a teenager in 1981 when PK was coach.

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