Tributes poured in for former India and Karnataka football great Krishnaji Rao, who breathed his last here on Sunday, aged 81.
“We had a long association,” recollected teammate and fellow icon Amjad Khan, who played with Krishnaji for close to 12 years. “He was the most versatile player of our generation (1950 to 1975). He could move from midfield to centre-back and right-back without dropping his levels. That was his greatness.”
Krishnaji represented the country at the 1966 Asian Games, but will be best remembered in Karnataka for leading the erstwhile Mysore State to back-to-back Santosh Trophy titles in 1967-68 and 1968-69. Karnataka has not won the competition since then.
The Mysore State team thus got the chance to represent India at the Asian Club Championship in Thailand in 1969, where it finished fourth, losing to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semifinals.
READ: AIFF condoles passing away of former India footballer Krishnaji Rao
M.S. Krishnamurthy, another former teammate, attested to his leadership qualities. “He used to be very encouraging on the field. He was a good leader, but never shouted at his team mates. He was a very tough player himself and would make life difficult for opponents.”
A stalwart for CIL FC, Krishnaji also had a distinguished career as a coach and mentor. “He was a leader. I still try to follow him in my coaching career,” said Shanmugam Venkatesh, currently the head coach of AIFF development team Indian Arrows. “His discipline and ability to handle the team were exemplary. Everything I am today, the credit goes to Krishnaji sir.”
A group photograph of the Chief Inspectorate of Electronics (CIL) of Bangalore, winner of the Puttiah Memorial Trophy Football Tournament in Bangalore on January 26, 1970. Captain Krishnaji Rao is standing third from right. – THE HINDU ARCHIVES
“He was the coach of ITI team and gave me a chance to play (in 95-96). I had not played anything then. But be had confidence in me and that was the turning point in my career,” added Venkatesh, who went on to captain the Indian national team.