In a cricket-obsessed country, legends of other sports find it very difficult to come into the spotlight. And IM Vijayan is one of them. Of course, there are numerous exceptions in the names of Leander Paes, Sardar Singh, Sania Mirza, Viswanathan Anand, Anju Bobby George just to name a few.
Interestingly, when we talk about legends of Indian football, the first few names that come to our minds include Bhaichung Bhutia, Suni Chhetri, Neville D’Souza, etc. However, there is one name most of us often miss out on and is only famous amongst the ardent followers of Indian football. Inivalappil Mani Vijayan, popularly known as IM Vijayan, is a notable footballer from Kerala who’s has had one illustrious career. From selling soda to silver screen fame, Vijayan has seen it all and here’s how.
“ONE SODA PLEASE, IM VIJAYAN CHETA”
Born in Thrissur, Kerala on 25th of April in 1969, the former Indian footballer grew up under destitute circumstances. It was difficult for his family to earn a square meal which meant young IM Vijayan started working from a very young age. As an adolescent, after the unfortunate death of his father, Vijayan began to sell soda bottles outside the Thrissur Municipal stadium.
After a day of hard work, there was only one place where he was seen. Cheerful IM Vijayan was often spotted on the streets playing football, and as his next of kin have always stated, the lad naturally had a nag for the sport. His passion for the spot caught the eye of the then D.G.P. of Kerala Police, M.K. Joseph who then picked him up for the Kerala Police squad.
At the age of 17, IM Vijayan made his club career debut with the team and at the Quilon Nationals, 1987, he mesmerized everyone with his fierce pace and aggressive attacking game.
IM Vijayan – Domestic Career
- His stint with the Kerala Police ended in 1991 after he switched to mighty Mohun Bagan A.C. However, just a year later in 1992, the former Indian footballer returned to Kerala Police. Once again after a year, he left and joined Mohun Bagan again. He stayed at Mohun Bagan until 1994 when he joined JCT Mills Phagwara and continued to give one excellent performance after for the next three years.
- In 1997, he joined F.C. Cochin and his stint ended shortly after a year. He joined Mohun Bagan for the third time in 1998 and stayed there for a year before joining F.C. Cochin back in 1999. After a two-year tenure at the club, IM Vijayan joined East Bengal Club for two years.
- In 2002, he joined JCT for the second time and played for the team until 2004. He then joined Churchill brothers for a year before going back to East Bengal Club in 2005. He was there for a year till 2006.
- He then quit football for the time, and after a hiatus of 6 years, in 2012, he joined Kerala Police where he still plays.
During his illustrious domestic football career from 1987 to 2006, IM Vijayan played for six different football clubs at various points in his career. If you are not intrigued about his goal count by now, then I guess you are not following his journey.
On this note, let’s have a look at his performances during each of his stints.
|1994-1997||JCT Mills Phagwara||19|
|2002-2004||JCT Mills Phagwara||10|
Astonishing statistics, to say the least. 250 goals in the domestic circuit itself is a testament to the beast IM Vijayan was on the football pitch. Fierce, ruthless, and aggressive are some of the terms that are often used to describe the legend.
‘Black Buck’ IM Vijayan shines at the International arena
Yes, you heard it right. IM Vijayan earned the popular nickname, ‘Black Buck,’ during his playing days. Known for his extraordinary volleys, lighting fast pace and swift movement on the pitch, the former Indian football team captain is one of the most successful players to have represented India. He made his debut for the national team in 1989 and represented the team in various international tournaments such as Nehru Cup, pre-Olympics, pre-World Cup, SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Cup and SAF Games. He played at a time when the Indian attack line-up was at its strongest.
Vijayan along with Bhaichung Bhutia ran riot in the opposition’s half and scored ample goals. In 1999, IM Vijayan was part of the Indian squad that took part in the 1999 SAFF Cup. He scripted history against Bhutan by scoring one of the fastest international goals in history during the tournament. He netted the ball only 12 seconds into the match. In 2003, he finished as the top scorer in the Afro-Asian Games event held in India with four goals.
After scoring 43 goals in 79 international appearances over a span 14 years, the former Indian skipper formally retired from international football.
IM VIJAYAN-CHHETRI-BHUTIA – A Comparison:
As mentioned earlier, when we talk about legendary Indian footballers, these are the names that we first think of. All the three players have represented the Indian football team in various international tournaments and courtesy their striking prowess, they have scripted their names in the history as some of India’s best.
However, how close are they? Is the difference between their statistics too large? Let’s find out:
|PLAYER||SPAN OF CAREER||APPEARANCES||GOALS|
|IM VIJAYAN||19 YEARS|
|BHAICHUNG BHUTIA||22 YEARS|
|SUNIL CHHETRI||16 YEARS|
It is interesting to see the stellar difference between Vijayan’s record and Bhutia’s & Chhetri’s record. In the domestic circuit itself, the former Indian striker played more games than both the other players and the goal difference is remarkable. Even though Sunil Chhetri is still playing and has at least 4-5 years of football left in him, it is highly unlikely that he will get close to the 250 mark of Vijayan. Bhaichung Bhutia had a humble career back home and is one of the few players to have reached the 100 goal mark.
As of now, IM Vijayan is the only Indian footballer to have passed the 200-goal mark in the domestic circuit. As per the current stats, he averages 0.739 whereas Bhutia and Chhetri average 0.384 and 0.458 respectively. Let’s assume that even if Chhetri plays around 65 games over the course of 5 years, he is still expected to finish at with approximately 150 goals.
Hence, it is safe to conclude that in the Indian domestic football circuit, IM Vijayan remains the most exceptional striker and that is why he was once the highest paid footballer in India. His striking prowess takes a long way further from the rest of the strikers, and the future of stars of India have a lot to look up to.
|PLAYER||SPAN OF CAREER||APPEARANCES||GOALS|
|I.M. VIJAYAN||15 YEARS|
|BHAICHUNG BHUTIA||16 YEARS|
|SUNIL CHHETRI||13 YEARS|
In the international circuit, however, the current Indian football team skipper leads the chart. Having played only 97 games for the country, Sunil Chhetri became the first Indian to surpass the 50-goal mark in international football. IM Vijayan is only second to him who’s scored the same number of international goals as Bhaichung Bhutia (40) but in fewer matches (79 and 104 respectively).
IM Vijayan – A Star on and off the Field:
After retiring from international football, Vijayan set out to take the silver screen by storm. He began his acting career in the Malayalam film industry in 2001. He made his debut in the film, Shantham, as the lead. Just like his football career, he was hugely successful in the film industry as well. Until today, he has acted in 15 films including Thimiru, Shyaamam, Kisan, Gethu, Komban, Ben Johnson, The Great Father and several others.
Fun fact: His debut film, which was directed by Jayaraj, won several awards.
His silver screen time does not end here. A biographical film on Vijayan, titled “Kalo Hiran,” was released in 1998. It was directed by Cherian Joseph, and the title translates to ‘black buck’ which was Vijayan’s nickname.
A Body full of Accolades – IM Vijayan
During the course of his successful and illustrious career, IM Vijayan has earned the entire football fraternity’s respect and numerous accolades. In 2003, he became the first player from Kerala to win an Arjuna Award. In addition to this, he was also crowned Indian Player of the Year in 1993, 1997, and 1999.
IM Vijayan Post Retirement Activities:
A husband and a father of three, IM Vijayan opened his football school in Thrissur. IN 2004, he started “Boxer Sports Goods Company (BSGC)” which is a sports equipment company, as the name suggests. In 2010, he became the coach of Southern Samity, a premier division side in the Calcutta Football League. In March 2017, he was appointed as the national observer for football by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
While IM Vijayan continues to be associated with football, it is safe to say that the future of the country is in safe hands as long as players like him still exist. As the national observer for football, he would look to bring about significant changes to the administration of the sport in an attempt to promote the sport further and bring out the hidden talent. The Pele of Indian football, indeed, is one of the greatest Indians to have graced the football pitch.