The 1950s and 60s are often referred to as the golden era in Indian football. Not only did the Indians win the gold in football at the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games, they also finished fourth at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics – their best-ever finish at the Games.
Tulsidas Balaram, Chuni Goswami, P.K. Banerjee, Jarnail Singh, Pradyut Barman, Prasanta Sinha, Peter Thangaraj… the list of legends was long. But the man in charge of these ‘Galacticos’ was a certain Syed Abdul Rahim, then considered to be one of Asia’s finest coaches.
The slightly-built but astute tactician is set to be immortalised on the silver screen with Maidaan by director Amit Sharma of Badhaai Ho fame. Starring Ajay Devgn and Priyamani among others, and co-produced by Boney Kapoor, Akash Chawla and Arunava Joy Sengupta, the biopic will be released in Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu. Actor Keerthy Suresh will be making her debut in the Hindi film industry with this film, the music of which has been composed by the legendary, A.R. Rahman. The film’s release has been postponed several times because of multiple reasons since 2021, and is finally expected to hit the theatres in July.
Rahim was considered the best football coach India ever had not just for the trophies or medals India won under him, but his revolutionary vision and tactics. The film deals with the earlier-mentioned golden era of Indian football and how he moulded the star-studded team into a world-class unit. It also charts the rise of Rahim from a teacher-turned-physical education instructor to the face and soul of Indian football.
Born in 1909 in Hyderabad, Rahim took to football in school and never looked back. According to ‘Box to Box – 75 years of the Indian Football Team’, he got a BA degree from Osmania University, and taught history and geography in Darul Uloom High School. He also obtained a degree in physical education while he was switching schools in the state.
But his first love remained football. He played as an inside forward and was a prolific goalscorer and a good dribbler, the book says. Even as an administrator, he had an impeccable record. He was the secretary of the Hyderabad Football Association (renamed Andhra Pradesh Football Association in 1959) for 20 years, and spread the game throughout the state. He introduced several tournaments like the Nizam Gold Cup and encouraged the one-touch playing style. As a coach, it was Rahim who shaped the Hyderabad City Police team into a formidable side, which won the Rovers Cup five years in a row in the 50s and the Durand Cup four times.
His success with the Hyderabad team earned him the job of the Indian team coach. Rahim managed the Indian team from 1950 to 1963, with the 1962 Asiad triumph in Jakarta being one of the finest moments of a great coaching career. He is said to have used the 4-2-4 system with the Indian team before Brazil popularised it at the 1958 World Cup.
Rahim, who was a chain smoker, succumbed to cancer at just 53. He had three sons and as many daughters. His eldest son, S.S. Hakim, represented India at the 1960 Rome Olympics.