Habib, the lion of football, has been dealt a cruel blow by fate; AIFF and Govt should help

Abhijit Sen Gupta
Abhijit Sen Gupta

There was a time when the very mention of Mohammed Habib’s name would make his rivals nervous. Few footballers in India could match this diminutive Hyderabadi’s ferocious approach to the game. He was small in size but what he lacked in height and weight he made up for with his guts and determination. From about 1965 through the 1970s Habib was the mainstay of India’s teams in international tournaments. He was a member of the Indian team which won a bronze medal at the Asian Games in 1970 by defeating Japan 1-0.

But perhaps one of the greatest moments of his career came when he was playing under the colours of Mohun Bagan club against New York Cosmos in Kolkata on 24th September, 1977. The visiting team had a star studded line up with legendary names like Pele, Carlos Alberto, Georgio Chinaglia and others in its ranks.

On a rain soaked Eden Gardens pitch, the Kolkata club held its famed rival to a 2-2 draw and one of the goal scorers for the Kolkata team was Habib. After the match, Pele singled out Habib and said that he had played a great game for Mohun Bagan. To be acknowledged by the world’s greatest player was a cherished moment indeed for this humble yet talented player from Hyderabad.

MS Education Academy

After his playing career was over, he coached the Tata Football Academy and other teams. He inspired many youngsters to improve their game and strive for excellence. Many well known names of football owe their rise to his help and guidance. He is a recipient of the Arjuna award and the Bharat Gaurav award by East Bengal club.

Yet, today he is suffering from the dreaded Parkinson’s disease. His hand is not steady and his memory sometimes lets him down. Speaking to siasat.com his younger brother Mohammed Akbar, himself a great footballer, said that the family is hoping that the Government of India and the All India Football Federation will come forward to help the former legend in his time of crisis. It is not that they are seeking a favour. Habib has represented India and is entitled to certain benefits under different schemes.

During his heyday, younger brother Akbar was known as Badshah Akbar of football and his combination with Habib was famed throughout India.

Mohammed Akbar

“The All India Football Federation has recently launched a scheme to help former international players who are facing problems. Our family is hoping that my brother’s case will receive a favourable response from them. When we were coming up in the game, we had the passion for the sport and for our country. We only wanted to don the India jersey and that was the only ambition in our lives. There was not much money in the game,” explained Akbar.

“That is why there are many former footballers who are now facing difficulties. Especially those who are suffering with ill health and have to spend enormous amounts for medical treatment. It would be very nice if the former players and their families could be traced out and looked after by providing a pension. Call it a suggestion or a request from me to the higher ups concerned,” said Akbar.

Recalling the days of his boyhood he said:” When I was young our family used to stay in the Siddiamber locality of Hyderabad which is very close to the Goshamahal football stadium. That venue was an important one back then for football activity. Top players of Hyderabad and India used to practice there. My five brothers and I used to watch them training and we became inspired to play the game ourselves,” said Akbar.

“My eldest brother Mohammed Azam was our guide. He himself achieved considerable success and helped all of us to follow in his footsteps. We used to play barefoot. We could not afford to buy footballs so we used to stitch together pieces of cloth to resemble a round football and played with that. Playing barefooted on hard ground often injured our feet and toes but we just tied a bandage and continued. Football was our obsession. We never stopped playing,” he said.

“Later when we were called up for national camps, we were often told to report for duty at short notice. So we had to travel in third class compartments on trains. At such short notice often reservations were not available so we just sat on the floor beside the toilets. Will any player do that now? We never felt that we must earn huge amounts from the game. But the negative side of that mentality is that presently many former players are facing financial difficulties. That is why I wish there is a pension fund to provide for these players,” said Akbar.

“And what great skills the players of the past had. They did not mind wearing torn and patched up uniforms or battered old boots and stockings. They accomplished marvelous deeds. The body feints to throw a rival off balance, the split second reactions and the agile minds and bodies turned football into a magical spectacle. I can never forget players like Susai senior and junior, Noor Mohamed, Moin, Zulfiqar and others. I don’t see those qualities in the present generation of players,” he said.

“Nowadays teams play too many passes. Even at the international level the game has become bogged down with passing. I could never imagine giving a pass when inside the box. When you are inside the box you have to slam the ball home, not pass to a teammate. My coaches used to drill into my mind that as a striker I must hammer in goals. My job was to bang in goals not defend or pass or anything else. Nowadays, I am surprised to see that even after entering the box a player is giving a pass instead of shooting at the goal,” said Akbar.

“So many things have changed. The way the game is being played now is different from the way we used to play it. So also the role of money. Present day players have no shortage of funds. The old guard has been left behind,” he said.

“We too gave everything we had for the club and country. Many players got injured and their careers ended prematurely. What has happened to them? They dedicated their youth for the nation. I think they should be looked after and provided for. I have no complaints against the modern system. It is good that there is so much sponsorship and money in the sport now. But my suggestion is that from big events like ISL, a certain percentage could be set aside which could go for the welfare of old players who are facing hard times. My brother is not an isolated case. There are many others like him. There should be an effort to help them in their old age,” Akbar concluded.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.

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