Undoubtedly the most popular football player India has ever produced, at a time when the game had almost no following in India, he became the torchbearer Indian football needed in order to get recognition in the international arena.
But it was for his country where he always shone the brightest. He was always at his best when playing for India, becoming the most capped player and also the top goalscorer for the country. He led the Indian team in arguably their most successful era post-independence, winning the SAFF Championships thrice, and also the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008, which enabled India to compete for the Asia Cup for the first time since 1984.
It would be unfair, though, to measure Bhaichung Bhutia's career only through his exploits on the football pitch and not talk about his contributions off it. Because he meant so much more to Indian football than just the goals he scored. For almost two decades, he was the poster boy of Indian football.
Being the face of Indian football to the world, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Michael Ballack, and Fabio Cannavaro when he played in a charity game for Africa in 2008.
He was the only footballer to have the kind of fan-following cricket stars do. He didn't even belong to traditional football centres in India like Kolkata or Kerala. He came from a quaint little village in Sikkim and rose to become Indian football's greatest superstar. And all this in an era before the tweets and status updates of social media or indeed even without a PR agency.