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Lachung to Kolkata, via Hyderabad
Kunzang Bhutia’s fledgling career takes wing after being picked up by ATK
Kunzang Bhutia has gone great distances to ‘get a grip’ on football. Just as Lachung his native village perched 9600 feet above sea level borders China, so does the 23-year-old form the last bastion of defence as goal-keeper.
Picked up recently by two-time Indian Super League (ISL) winner Atletico de Kolkata, now renamed Amar Tomar Kolkata (ATK), he’s in the league of custodians upwards of six feet such as the legendary Gianluigi Buffon, the promising Gianluigi Donnarumma and his role model Manuel Neuer.
“On a football field, the goalie’s is a hot seat. Nonetheless, I enjoy taking risks,” the ex-right back told The Hindu from his north Sikkim home.
“If tending goal is a balance between anticipation and positioning, the former Fateh Hyderabad keeper leans towards the latter, finding himself in the right place at the right time on the quest for a clean sheet.
If the slide down to second division was his career’s low-point, the ‘netizen from the north-east’ wasn’t unduly deterred.
With defenders such as Gurtej Singh and Abdul Hakku or forward Adam Mitter for back up, Bhutia’s stint under the bar bore fruit with a recall to the champion side from the City of Joy.
Yet his soccer sojourn has been an arduous, if not an eventful one. For a game in Gangtok, it was five hours by bus from Lachung. So much so that he stayed put in the State capital thanks to aunt Pempa and uncle Yenthen, his fledgling career taking wing from Enchey Senior Secondary School.
The take-off began when he led Sikkim’s under 16 side to the junior Nationals in Goa. The shift to the Sports Authority of India academy in Delhi was another step forward.
In the capital he turned out occasionally for Sahadra FC before being enrolled in Royal Wahingdoh’s youth squad.
When just 17 he represented his State in the Santosh Trophy, earning him a place in Shillong Lajong.
From there he was loaned to NorthEast United and Atletico de Kolkata. Last year he joined Tollygunge Agragami and then moved to Fateh Hyderabad.
“The Twin Cities experience was a turning point,” he said of the spell that served as a springboard to the ISL. Along the way, the biggest challenges to his citadel came from forwards such as Jeje Lalpekhlua and Ian Hume.
With the gains there was a major loss too. When a professional football career beckoned, he left the books behind after his matriculation exam. He has no regrets though. “I don’t think I’ll go back to studies in this lifetime,” said Bhutia of a stage he’s not keen to revisit.