A new football season with a new set of promises in the air. With Indian football trying to shed its age-old downtrodden image, letís hope for the best. Before the ball starts rolling, letís look at the way the teams have prepared for the Calcutta Super Division League, since thatís the curtain-raiser to a new season.
A primary glance clearly suggests East Bengal are the team to have done the maximum homework, having carefully learnt the lessons from the season just gone by. They have paid adequate attention to bench strength, keeping in mind the long grind that lies ahead, and recruited most of the best of Indian talent.
Quality of resources in each department and reserve strength is the primary yardstick, but coaching intelligence and the ability to motivate will also play a significant role. The following is a candid assessment of who has got what.
With two reliable goalkeepers in Sangram Mukherjee and Sandip Nandy and the very best of defenders by Indian standards, the rearguard mechanism of the red-gold brigade is unquestionably the strongest in the country at the moment.
There is absolutely no doubt that with Douglas da Silva and Suley Musah coming in, East Bengalís defence is going to be the one to breach in the coming season.
In midfield, coach Subhas Bhowmick has to use at least one of his frontline blockers as defensive screen and even then, he will be spoiled for choice. But still, it would be a formidable force.
What he will miss here is a game-maker, and somebody who can operate down the wing at good pace, a job done by midfielders these days. In the attacking zone, Bhowmick will be well served by the consistent Mike Okoro, but he needs an equally reliable second to build an all-round unit.
Bhowmickís job is going to be tougher this season. The burden of expectation will multiply and just because he has players of similar ability in defence and midfield, he will have to convince the ones sitting out as to why they are warming the bench. A tricky task, and it will be interesting to see how he handles this.
We wonít discuss the off-field crisis here. On paper, they have a good goalkeeper in Prasanta Dora and a promising one in Imran Khan. They have been unwise in releasing defenders Satish Bharti and Dulal Biswas as the ones they have recruited from JCT are unlikely to succeed on the slippery ground conditions they have to encounter in the local league.
The past experience shows that even great outstation players like Jarnail Singh and Bajra Velu failed to adapt straight away in Calcutta.
In midfield, they can rely on Basudeb Mondal and Rennedy Singh, but the rest donít promise much.
Their problem is the absence of proper planning. For example, if they need a left-arm spinner, they would hire a middle-order batsman.
What I mean to say is that there is no synchronized effort on the part of the officials during recruitment of players.
How else would you justify releasing Bharti or Dulal, who did some sort of face-saving job even amid a jittery line of defence last season'
In attack, they look better assured with the tested Jose Ramirez Barreto, rising star Ashim Biswas and the promising Sunil Chhetry around. New Brazilian recruit Marcos Perreira from Vasco will have to prove himself here as Calcutta League is a different game altogether.
Coach Aloke Mukherjee, who is very promising, will really have to work hard in order to strike some sort of cohesion, as there is hardly any uniformity in the line-up. All the best Aloke, you have some job on your hands.
They have not shown any good sense by losing íkeepers Dora and Imran, but saved face somewhat by roping in Bivash Ghosh and Amar Deb.
In defence they have reliable ones in Hussain Mustafi, Bharti and Nigerian Habib Adenkule. But yet, they will regret losing Reaz-ul Mustafa.
They have a string of TFA Blues in midfield and in attack and what must be a major boost is the fact that most of these youngsters learnt their early lessons from Mohammed Habeeb, who did a great job in promoting Mohammedan Sporting to the Super Division of the National Football League. They are still awaiting a couple of foreign players and that will undoubtedly boost what seems to be a young and promising lot.
Having known Habeeb for decades, there is little doubt that his bunch will love to fight. They will seriously challenge the Big Two in the local league. Come on Habeeb, you have a fresh set of boys you can motivate.
Undoubtedly, the biggest losers in the transfers market. No Ashim, no Mehtab Hossain and even goalkeeper Amar Deb has gone. Still, they have got back Partha Sarathi Dey, Kajal Bhattacharya and retained Sandip Das.
Over the past few years, this has been the only club to have unearthed local talent, caring little about reputation.
Tollygunge is perhaps the only team that plays the game with a lot of heart, and the credit goes to their secretary Montu Ghosh, who gives his all for the boys.
With Subrata Bhattacharya as coach, you can expect some surprise, may be of the lesser kind, at least. They may not be the title challengers, but they are capable of snatching vital points from the bigwigs, which will only make the story more interesting.
All the best Tollygunge, you are short on cash and resources, but not short on motivation and courage.
There will be a serious challenge this season from lesser known clubs like Ever-Ready and Mohammedan AC. The former have roped in a few big names, and with a seasoned coach like Amal Dutta, I am sure they will upset equations by surprising the top guns from time to time.
And I assure, Mohammedan AC will be no pushovers either. Watch out, you might just be in for a surprise.
This will only make the League more interesting. I am glad to see such lesser-knowns enter the ring and dare to throw in a challenge. It augurs well for Calcutta football in general. Letís see how it goes.