Indian sport lost one of its exemplars this week, the courageous yet dignified footballer Sailen Manna. The 87-year-old former Indian captain died of age-related ailments in Kolkata.
A lion-hearted defender, Manna was at the forefront of Indian football during its golden age, leading the country to an impressive performance in the 1948 Olympics and then to a gold medal in the 1951 Asian Games. Remarkably, Manna played barefoot. At a reception at Buckingham Palace after the 1948 Olympics, Princess Margaret asked him how he took on big European attacks without the protection of footwear. He said strength lay in the mind. In 1953, the English Football Association Yearbook included Manna in its list of the world’s ten best captains. No Indian footballer could quite fill his shoes, even if he didn’t wear any.