We all know India as a cricket crazy nation, most of the people are crazy about cricket and even if a child wants to become a footballer their parents tell him to go for cricket as there is no future for football. this is the situation of football in a county like India. So it’s very hard to believe that there was a footballer, by name of Sailen Manna, who nearly took the country to 1950 FIFA World Cup. India’s football governing body, the AIFF would withdraw from the tournament at the last minute, affecting the growth and success of Indian football ever since.
Sailen Manna was an Indian Footballer born in Kolkata on 1st September 1924. He represented and captained the Indian football team in Olympics and Asian games. He is known as one of the best defenders Indian has ever produced. He used to play for one of the Indian’s biggest club Mohun Bagan.
Manna started his playing career for Howrah Union, then a club in the 2nd Division Kolkata Football League, in 1940
He joined Mohun Bagan in 1942 and continued playing for the club for a period of 19 years, till his retirement in 1960. During this period, he was the Captain of Mohun Bagan from 1950 to 1955
During his 19 year carrer, he earned only Rs.19.
He was known for his anticipation, covering and a strong free kick.
In his football career, he was never been sent off or has never been booked and has never raised his voice against on teammates or opponents.
In 1953 England football Association rated Manna as the 10th best captain in the world! A rare distinction and something considered to be the greatest honour.
He was also awarded Padma Shri one of the highest civilian honour for his service of Indian football.
London Olympics 1948
He led India in the Olympics against France. India lost the by a small margin of 2-1 but they won the heart of many for their effort. They were invited to Buckingham Palace by Princess Margaret for their fearless performances. The princess asked Manna why they used to play barefoot. He didn’t mention the true, financial reason but instead said their ball control was much better barefoot.
One of the main reason why the team played barefoot was that they couldn’t afford to buy Football boots. Sailen Mann himself played for free at club level and paid all of his expenses.
India was the only team to play the tournament with bare feet which was allowed until the 1950 world cup.
Asian Games 1951
His another big achievement on the international stage was leading the Indian team to Gold in 1951 Asian games in New Delhi.
He was specialist at set pieces and free kicks, King George VI applauded his set-piece speciality and asked him if his legs were made of metal.
With only one spot left for Asian countries, Philippines Burma and Indonesian for the 1950 FIFA world cup. All the three countries withdrew due to cost expenses that will be incurred, which left Indian to automatic Qualification for the World Cup.
FIFA banned playing barefoot in the 1950 World Cup. India didn’t attend the tournament.
But the reason cited for India’s non-attendance was the issue of being unable to play bare feet which were not true.
There were reports suggesting that Indian Football governing body (AIFF) couldn’t afford the expenses to travel to the tournament which was being held in Brazil. But this was not the case as organizers were prepared to pay half of India’s expense.
Manna himself has said that this reason was used as a scapegoat.
As the AIFF did not take the World Cup Seriously as they take Olympics because in those days the Olympics were considered the pinnacle of sports and ultimately they thought the World Cup wasn’t any big deal.
This stupid decision has affected the Indian football most ever since and is regretted by most Indian footballers and fans. It’s been 67 years since and India has not qualified for the World Cup. It could have been Manna’s greatest moments, representing the Indian Team at the Greatest Footballing Stage and could have earned himself a move to a European Club.