This is a massive loss for Indian football, because Pradipda [PK Banerjee] was obviously a great player, but also a great coach. What I will remember him the most for are so many great moments. I can't place exactly where and when I would have met him the first time, but I can definitely say that one of the best matches of my life [the 1997 Federation Cup semi-final] was played while he was coach.
Pradipda was just a great, happy person. Every time you met him, he was full of fun, joy and stories. Just being around him, he used to bring that energy and happiness for everyone, just because of the kind of stories he would share, his experiences and all. He was just a really happy person. That's something which was a great quality of his.
The best thing I remember about that Federation Cup game [before the match, then Mohun Bagan coach Amal Dutta had tried to ratchet up the pressure on his opponents, with Bhaichung and Kenyan defender Sammy Omollo being the targets of some comments] is that, despite there being so much hype and pressure around that match, Pradipda was so cool and composed. Whereas, Amalda was probably under a lot more pressure and did make a couple of unnecessary statements.
Pradipda kept it very simple -- he didn't take up any of that pressure on himself, and that reflected on the players as well. That helped the team. That's very important, sometimes, that as manager, you don't let the pressure affect you, and you don't let it seep through to the players. That's something he was always really good at. That had a great impact on the team.
I have played under a lot of coaches all across the globe, but I think you'd never find a better player-management man than him. Pradipda was one of the best man-managers. It was something very natural to him. He knew exactly what to say to a player on and off the field. That's something that he had as a natural gift.
Bhaichung Bhutia won 107 caps for India, scoring 42 goals. He played under PK Banerjee while at East Bengal, including at the 1997 Federation Cup semi-final against Mohun Bagan. Bhutia became the first player to score a hat trick in the Kolkata Derby in 72 years, as East Bengal won 4-1.
(As told to Debayan Sen)