New Delhi, May 10: Fortunato Franco, one of the pillars of India's last Asian Games gold-winning football team in 1962, died in Goa on Monday. He was 84. The AIFF confirmed the news of his death but did not specify the cause of his demise.
Franco is survived by his wife, son and daughter. One of India's finest mid-fielders (half-back as per 1960s parlance), Franco was a part of Indian football's golden era between 1960-64. He was a part of the 1960 Rome Olympics squad but didn't get a game.
However, he was an integral part of the 1962 Asiad gold-winning team in Jakarta. He made 26 appearances for India, including the 1962 Asian Cup, where India finished runners-up, and silver and bronze medal-winning sides of 1964 and 1965 Merdeka Cup. But his best performance was in the 1962 Asian Games where Indian football witnessed its finest hour, beating South Korea 2-1 in the final in Jakarta in front of 100,000 people.
While the more illustrious quartet of PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Tulsidas Balaram and Jarnail Singh hogged the limelight, Franco would forever be remembered for providing the assist that enabled Jarnail to nod home the winner. Franco, a Goan, played his best years for the powerful Tata Football Club in Mumbai at the domestic level. In fact, he worked in the company's public relations department for four decades before retiring in 1999.
He was probably the tallest name in Maharashtra football having captained the state for eight successive years between 1959 and 1966 in the Santosh Trophy and was the architect of their title triumph in 1964. During his last years in competitive football, he did play for Goan giants Salgaocar but a knee injury ended his career even before he was 30 years old.
Had Franco not retired from international football in 1965, many old-timers believe that he could have become India captain for the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok.
"It is devastating to hear that Mr Fortunato Franco is no more. He was a member of the Indian football's golden generation who played a stellar role in India helping India win the Gold Medal in 1962 Asian Games," AIFF president Patel was quoted as saying in a media release.
"His contribution to Indian Football can never be forgotten. I share the grief," he added. AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said: "Mr Fortunato Franco will be alive in his achievements. He played a massive role in India winning the Gold Medal in the 1962 Asian Games.
"He was a legendary footballer who has been an inspiration to so many generations. My condolences to his family. We pray for his soul to rest in peace." The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) also condoled Franco's demise.
"The Indian Olympic Association condoles the demise of legendary footballer, former Team India midfielder Olympian and member of 1962 Jakarta Asian Games gold medal-winning team, Fortunato Franco. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and dear ones. May his soul find eternal peace."