Former India football captain Mohammed Habib dies in Hyderabad

Mumbai, Aug 16: Former India captain and legendary footballer Mohammed Habib, who was once praised by the Brazilian legend Pele himself, passed away in Hyderabad on Tuesday after a long illness. He was 74 and is survived by his wife, four daughters and a son.

Having made his name in Kolkata and lived there for decades, Habib a few years back shifted to Hyderabad and was bedridden for the last year or so as he has been suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s Syndrome. He breathed his last at around 4 pm on Tuesday at his residence in Toli Chowki, Hyderabad. 

Born in Hyderabad in undivided Andhra Pradesh on July 17, 1949, Habib represented India for a decade from 1965-75 and was part of the golden generation that won a bronze medal in the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok — the team led by statemate Syed Nayeemuddin and of which another legend P. K. Banerjee was the manager. He was also part of the squad that secured third place in the Merdeka Tournament in 1970 and did well in the Pesta Sukan Cup in Singapore in 1971.

He represented the country in 35 international matches, and scored 11 goals in the process, after making his debut against Thailand in the Merdeka Cup at Kuala Lumpur in 1967.

A doyan of the Kolkata maidans, Habib was known for his nimble footwork and in a 17-year-long domestic career represented all three Kolkata giants — having multiple stints with East Bengal (1966-68, 1970-74 and 1980-81), Mohun Bagan (1968-69, 1976-78, and 1982-84) and Mohammedan Sporting Club (1975 and 1979).

It was because of his brilliant skills, stature and a measure of respect that he commanded that the fanatic fans of these three famous clubs never picked on him for playing for the archrivals.

The diminutive Hyderabadi forward, known in Kolkata as ‘Bade Miyan’, was also referred to as Indian Pele by many and was conferred the Arjuna Award in 1980.

Though he was born in Andhra Pradesh, now Telangana, Habib also represented Bengal in domestic competitions and helped them win the Santosh Trophy in 1969, emerging as the topscorer of that edition with 11 goals.

Habib won the Santosh Trophy on five occasions – 1965 (with Andhra Pradesh), 1969, 1971, 1972, and 1975 (with Bengal). He also has the distinction of winning the Calcutta Football League 10 times (1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1982), the Durand Cup five times (1967, 1970, 1972, 1977, 1982), the Rovers Cup seven times (1967, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1981), the IFA Shield four times (1970, 1972, 1973, 1974), and the Federation Cup twice (1978 and 1981) with clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.

He was also conferred with the East Bengal Bharat Gaurav Award in 2016 and the Bangabibhushan considered the ‘First Professional Football player’ by the West Bengal government in 2018.

A player of supreme skills and a great presence on the field, Habib is considered the ‘First Professional Football player’ of the country as he moved to Kolkata and played for its famed clubs, winning the IFA Shield with East Bengal in 1970 and 1974 and Federation Cup with both East Bengal (1980-81) and Mohun Bagan (1978-79).

Always considered a big-match footballer, Habib always shone when it was needed most. He had the rare distinction of scoring the winning goals in three Durand Cup finals in the span of seven seasons for East Bengal. 

For Mohun Bagan, Habib was the key performer when Pele’s Cosmos Club played against the Green and Maroon brigade in an exhibition club in Kolkata. Habib not only scored a goal in the 2-2 draw but also earned the praise of King Pele for his impressive display at the Eden Garden that evening. Habib was one of the few players to win the Triple Crown (winning the IFA Shield, Durand Cup and Rovers Cup in the same season) for both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in 1972 and 1977, respectively.

After retiring as a player, Habib became the coach of the Tata Football Academy (TFA) and was also the chief coach of the Indian Football Association academy in Haldia, West Bengal. Later, he coached Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting, too.