The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has recommended legendary former skipper IM Vijayan for Padma Shri, the country’s fourth-highest civilian award.
The 51-year-old former India striker, who scored 40 goals in 79 matches for India since making his debut in the early 90s, was bestowed the Arjuna award in 2003. He was also awarded the Indian ‘Player of the Year’ in 1993, 1997, and 1999.
“Yes, we have sent Vijayan’s name to the Ministry of Home Affairs for Padma Shri,” AIFF general secretary Kushal Das told PTI.
Six Indian footballers – Sailen Manna (1971), Chuni Goswami (1983), P K Banerjee (1990), Bhaichung Bhutia (2008), Sunil Chhetri (2019) and Bembem Devi (2020) — have earlier won the Padma Shri.
“I am happy that I have been recommended for the Padma Shri and I thank the AIFF for that. I will be happier if I get the award,” Vijayan said from his home in Kerala.
“I have served Indian football to the best of my abilities and I have no regrets,” he added.
Vijayan, who led the Indian team from 2000 to 2003, used to form a formidable pair with fellow striker Bhaichung Bhutia.
At the club level, he had memorable stints with Mohun Bagan, Kerala Police, the now defunct FC Cochin and JCT Mills Phagwara.
He is credited to have scored one of the fastest international goals, managing to find the back of the net in just 12 seconds in a match against Bhutan in the 1999 SAF Games.
He had scored four goals to emerge as the top scorer in the Afro-Asian Games held in India in 2003. It was his last appearance for the country as he retired after the tournament.
Asked about his debut match for national senior team, he said, “I played in the 1991 Nehru Cup in Trivandrum.”
Most of the participating countries in that tournament had sent under-strength teams and it’s uncertain whether the matches were considered full international games. Romania ‘B’ team won that tournament.
Vijayan, who used to sell soda during football games in his home town Thrissur’s Corporation stadium early in his life, began his career as a striker with the Kerala Police Football Club at the age of 17.
After hanging up his boots, Vijayan set up a football academy to train young players in his home tow