The 2002-03 football season is approaching an end and itís time to take stock of who did what and how. Since we have discussed the Indian teamís performance in this column earlier, letís now look at our club football. Itís sad but true that there has been no Ďdecentralisationí in Indian football and Calcutta teams are still calling the shots, even with outstation clubs spending handsome money and putting in a lot of enterprise. Our focus of attention in this discussion will thus be the Big Two of Indian football.
East Bengal are looking good to recapture the National Football League crown after having won everything else on offer this season. And though far behind in the title race, Mohun Bagan continue to be among the top three and their success on the domestic circuit over the last couple of seasons was nothing but phenomenal. But the current season has seen them falling behind East Bengal and not without reason.
The two clubs function on a more or less similar budget, so there is no reason to believe either of them canít afford something which the other one can. But still, a tendency to score over the other in terms of recruiting stars has been palpable in Mohun Baganís approach, which has let them down. You need an allround team, rather than a conglomeration of big names, in order to succeed and it wonít be imprudent to say that Mohun Bagan has been unsuccessful in this regard this season.
Right at the start of the season, Mohun Bagan started thinking that teaming up Bhaichung Bhutia alongside Jose Ramirez Barreto will take them past everything. It can be assumed that they spent so much on forming this pair that they had little left to rope in the others who play an equally important role in a team game such as this. Letting go the likes of Debjit Ghosh, James Singh, R.P. Singh ó all played significant roles in last seasonís success ó was an injudicious act and only highlighted the officialsí misplaced belief that two superstars will take them through. Satish Bharti was perhaps their only good buy.
Success does boost confidence but it can also lead to false confidence. On the back of their terrific run last season, Mohun Bagan thought the inclusion of a superstar will sharpen their edge and overlooked the principle of forming a balanced side.
You have to have a good set of back-up players in order to sustain a momentum as the stars may be unavailable because of injury or other reasons. This is where the Mohun Bagan thinktank miscalculated and their East Bengal counterparts excelled. They didnít go for stars and recruited low-profile, hard-working juniors. They picked many players of similar quality so that there would be no dearth of replacements and are reaping the benefits of this approach. Especially in defence and midfield, East Bengal could choose from plenty.
This is precisely where the East Bengal officials and coach scored over their rivals. A safe pair of goalkeepers, a steady defence with sufficient replacements, plenty of options in midfield and a consistent striker with the midfielders often finding the mark ó are the traits of a very organised and balanced side, which East Bengal has been this season.
Remember, they missed Anit Ghosh for a better part of the season and also had to dispense with the injured Dipak Mondal and Dipankar Roy for a long time. They withstood all this with their enviable bench strength and this is what has made the difference between them and other teams.