As the world greeted cricket icon Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s retirement from international games with much sadness and heart-broken messages, especially on social media, ‘Sikkimese sniper’ and former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia has hailed the former Indian cricket team captain as the greatest captain India has ever seen.

Talking to select journalists on the sidelines of a Gorkha food tasting event at the Courtyard by Marriott in Siliguri yesterday, Mr Bhutia said Mr Dhoni was the best not just in cricket, but also the best among all other captains in all other sports that India plays.

“I feel Dhoni is the best sportsperson I have ever come across, as a leader, as a player and as a team person,” Mr Bhutia said.

“He always sacrificed his individual wellbeing for the sake of the team. He always played for the team and not for his individual self or individual glory. We got to see this throughout his career,” the ace striker added.

‘Sports industry will bounce back’

He further said that the sports industry will bounce back the fastest among all other sectors when the Covid- 19 situation starts to ease.

The Covid-19 pandemic that has swept across the world has left the public health system, society, and the economy of the country in tatters, while it has also upset the sports sector, with all games and seasons being either postponed or cancelled.

“It has already started getting back on its feet. Games and matches, including cricket and football, have already begun in countries outside India. Unlike other sectors, it will be easier for the industry to recover from the slump,” Mr Bhutia said.

“The football sector may not have been hit financially by the pandemic so far, as it is already an off season for the game. It is an off-field day for football players from May to the end of August or September. If the pandemic continues after the season begins in September- October, that might affect clubs’ revenue, and that may eventually come down to hit individual players,” he added.

According to him, most of big clubs have long-term contracts and sponsorships and fixed salaries, and that they may not be hit financially during times like these.

‘Pandemic situation hitting senior players

He also said that the pandemic had been taking a toll on senior sportspersons the most. “Take for example Dhoni and Leander Paes, who were on their verge of retirement. Had there been no pandemic, they would have played a little longer or a few more games before they called it quits,” he said.

Bhaichung Stadium ‘ready’

On the local front, Mr Bhutia said that the Bhaichung (football) Stadium in Namchi in South Sikkim built in honour of the Sikkimese icon is all ready and awaiting inauguration.

“There were plans to open the same in May this year, but had to be stalled for the pandemic. Everything is complete there and it will be inaugurated as soon as the Covid- 19 situation eases,” he said.

Football scene in country ‘improving’

On the football scenario in the country, the legendary footballer said it has definitely improved and is progressing at a slow pace, “but I think it can only get better.”

“We are quite low, but the graph is on the upward trend. We have had some young and good players, but we have not yet found someone whom we can call a sensation. We have not yet seen 17-18 year olds in the football field making headlines,” he said.