It seems a bit sad to watch Indians celebrating the Spanish conquest and going into raptures at the machine-like display of the Germans in the recently-concluded Euro-2012. To rejoice at the pathetic show of the Englishmen is understandable. But pause a while. Do you know that there was a time when Indian fans used to cheer their own football team? At the Olympics, no less? And, with boys from Hyderabad leading from the front?
For the uninformed, the answer is a resounding yes. With the London Olympics just weeks away, we take you on a journey back in time and to the legends who made the country proud.
When one talks of Olympics and Indian football, the name of Syed Abdul Rahim comes to mind. Under his coaching, the national team became a force to reckon with in Asian football from 1950 to 1962. They won the Asian Games gold medal in 1951 in New Delhi and in Jakarta in 1962. But it was their amazing run at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics that made them heroes. They finished fourth, a feat that none of the successive national sides could repeat. And, Rahim, the man who made history, is a forgotten hero today.
He began his career as a player at the Osmania University and under his guidance, Hyderabad produced a number of footballers and Olympians. If in 1952 Helsinki Olympics, there were three city players – Syed Khawja Azizuddin, Noor Mohammad and SK Moinuddin – the next Olympics at Melbourne saw as many as eight from the city representing the country. Peter Thangaraj (goalkeeper), Mohd Aziz, Salaam, Latif (all defenders), Ahmed Hussain Lala and Noor Mohammad (mid-fielders), Tulsidas Balaram and Zulfiqaruddin (both forwards) formed the nucleus of the team. At the 1960 Rome Games, the last time when India played football in Olympics, there were six members from Hyderabad. Thangaraj, Aziz, Yousuf Khan (midfielder), Balaram, Dharamlingam Kannan, Hamid Ahmed and Rahim’s son Syed Shahid Hakim. The Hyderabad Police and the Andhra Pradesh teams were the most feared teams in the country at the time.
Hakim reminisces, “He was very well read and was indeed a practical psychologist. My father always believed that unless one is a practical psychologist, one can never be an outstanding coach.” He recalls that his father was invited as a visiting lecturer to the UK by Sir Stanley Rous but could not go due to government apathy. Rahim was vice-principal of the Hyderabad Physical Education College in the early 50s and had rejected offers to be the chief coach of NIS Patiala.
Zulfiqaruddin, who played under Rahim, still believes his mentor was the best coach ever produced by India. “He was a master at work. He made the Indian football team a formidable unit. He had the uncanny ability of spotting talent and turning them into solid players. But he was a strict disciplinarian,” he says.
Balaram, who has now settled in Kolkata, remembers Rahim as a great strategist. “There were no computers then but Rahim sahib was a genius. His mind worked faster than a computer. With simple observations, he would plan his strategies,” explains Balaram.
According to former Indian captain Victor Amalraj, who played for all the big three clubs – Mohan Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting – many believe that Rahim’s methods, followed in India in the 50s and and 60s were later adopted by footballing giants like Brazil.
“Critics talk about the Spanish playing with six mid-fielders and no forward. Rahim, in those days, had a withdrawn forward that was flexible. No country in the world had even attempted that formation then,” Hakim points out.
It was indeed so. When national coach Alberto Fernando had gone to a workshop in Brazil in 1964, he had this to say: “What I learnt from Rahim in 1956 is being taught now in Brazil. Verily, he was a football prophet.”
Such was Rahim’s passion for the beautiful game that he took the team to the 1962 Jakarta Games and won the gold despite suffering from lung cancer. A few months later, he passed away. None has bothered about him since then and by his birth centenary in 2009, he was all but forgotten.