TK Chathunni — the coach with the Midas touch who had a ball with glory

Former player and coach TK Chathunni, who died at a private hospital in Karukutty near Thrissur, contributed several legends to Indian football.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Jun 13, 2024 | 10:33 AM Updated Jun 13, 2024 | 2:19 PM

TK Chathunni — the coach with the Midas touch who had a ball with glory

The inevitable long whistle came at 7.45 am on Wednesday, 12 June, drawing the curtains over the illustrious career of TK Chathunni, football player and coach.

TK Chathunni, who passed away at 79, had turned every team he handled into formidable units. His ability to inspire and transform teams earned him the reputation of a coach who could turn everything he touched into gold.

“He has that magic. To turn whatever comes in his way, be it a player or a team, into the personification of excellence,” former Indian captain IM Vijayan told South First.

Related: Former Indian footballer and renowned coach TK Chathunni dies

Artist who sculpted legends

The legendary striker, who earned the nickname Kalo Hiran (blackbuck), said coach Chathunni made him what he is today.

IM Vijayan

Legendary footballer IM Vijayan said Chathunni made him what he is today.

“I was part of the Kerala Police team which won the Federation Cup. I got the Most Promising Player Award too. It was because of Chathunni sir that the police team lifted the cup and I bagged the limelight,” Vijayan, now a Kerala police officer, said.

“If IM Vijayan had made a name for himself, it was only because of Chathunni sir,” he added.

Recalling Chathunni as the best stopper in Indian football, Vijayan said he was a player’s coach.

“He did not deal with players sternly,” Vijayan reminisced. “He always dealt with players in a friendly manner. But at the same time, he made sure that they delivered what he wanted. He was like a godfather to me. And for him, I am like a son,” Vijayan added.

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Master strategist

Former Indian player and the president of the Kerala State Sports Council, U Sharaf Ali, recalled Chathunni as a strategist and shrewd coach.

“He had a vast wealth of experience as a footballer. He was a player for around 15 years. He had played within and outside the state for various clubs. Then he became the coach of the Kerala Police football team,” he said.

“I would say that the police team was his laboratory,” Ali told South First.

His experiments paid off. As the coach of the Kerala police team, he tried many ideas that outsmarted the opponents. He guided the Kerala Police to their maiden Federation Cup triumph in 1990.

“He not only trained the players under him but also kept a close watch over the opponent’s camp. He lists out the weaknesses and strengths of the opponents and train and plan accordingly. This strategic thinking reflected in his exemplified career,” Ali said.

Recalling that Chathunni connected with each player with his heart, Ali revealed that he had once revealed his desire to train children rather than coaching big clubs.

“He wanted to conduct coaching camps, identify talents, and mold them into better players. He once told me that he was not that satisfied in coaching clubs as the atmosphere there was always tense due to the constant reminder of the competition ahead,” he added.

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TK Chathunni – Mr Dependable

Chathunni’s football journey began in high school time when he joined a team without the knowledge of his family.

Later, he showcased his talent with teams such as the EME Centre in Secunderabad, Vasco Club in Goa, and Orkay Mills in Mumbai.

His exceptional skills earned him a spot in the national team, and he represented India in the 1973 Merdeka Tournament in Kuala Lumpur, playing six matches for the national side.

In the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy, he played for Services, further cementing his status as a dependable defender.

He was a well-known stopper in the Indian football during the 1960s and 1970s.

Transitioning from player to coach, Chathunni made significant impacts with several teams, including the Kerala Police, FC Kochin, Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar FC, Dempo Sports Club, and Churchill Brothers.

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TK Chathunni’s brainy philosophy

Chathunni’s prowess was exemplified when he led the Kerala Police to their maiden Federation Cup triumph in 1990, a historic achievement that highlighted his strategic acumen and leadership qualities.

Chathunni was not just a coach but a mentor to many. He played a pivotal role in the careers of Indian football legends such as Vijayan and Joe Paul Ancheri.

His coaching philosophy was simple yet profound: Players should use their brains on the field.

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Chathunni as effective communicator

Despite being a school dropout, Chathunni communicated effectively with players from diverse backgrounds, including Thailand, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, and Nigeria, using what he fondly referred to as his “football English.”

Chathunni’s home, aptly named ‘Ball Bhavan,’ and his autobiography ‘Football, My Soul’ stand testament to his lifelong devotion to football.

A life dedicated to football and a man who excelled both as a player and a coach, his death has left a void in the Indian football world.

However, his legacy continues to inspire future generations and his contributions will be cherished forever.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).