| Sandip Nandy wants to make it to the India XI
Calcutta: East Bengal’s ASEAN Club Championship conquest is seen by some as the great revival story of Indian soccer. Some others feel the city giants have shown that Indians are capable of upstaging continental heavyweights on the big stage. For Sandip Nandy, the biggest satisfaction of the Jakarta coup is proving critics wrong.
The goalkeeper, still to get an India cap despite being in the squad a few times, says eyebrows were raised when East Bengal arranged a residential camp at a five-star hotel to prepare for the tournament five weeks before the team left the city.
“Our training programme, under a foreign physical trainer, wasn’t well received in all quarters. Some people laughed it off, saying all that was out of place in Indian football. We have proved them wrong,” Nandy told The Telegraph from Jakarta on Sunday.
“Some even said that BEC Tero Sasana are as good or as bad as the clubs from Maldives. They probably need to check their facts before passing judgement. The Thai champions are very strong and we humbled them in the final.
“We have proved we too can be a force and comprehensively beat teams rated higher than us. It was a red letter day in Indian football and a new chapter in the history of East Bengal has been scripted,” said the 25-year-old, adjudged best goalkeeper of the tournament.
“Our coach (Subhas Bhowmick) was the first to realise the importance of such disciplined training, under one roof, under a professional physical trainer. His ideas attracted sarcasm, but he stuck to his guns. We are proud to have paid him back,” said Nandy, who hails from Bardhaman.
Nandy admitted he was not consistent in the semi-final against Petrokimia Putra, but added the shot he stopped in sudden-death was most satisfying. “That save put us in the final. That was my most memorable moment in the tournament.”
On the personal front, Nandy said it was a dream come true. “I always dreamt of doing well in an international event. Winning one makes it very special. Clearly it was the happiest day of my life.”
The former Mohun Bagan custodian hoped the Jakarta performance will help him get into the India XI soon. “I have been losing out to the likes of Virender Singh, Nasim Akhtar, but now I think I can make it,” said Nandy, who shot into prominence after joining Mohun Bagan from Sonali Shibir in 1999-2000.
He added this victory should stand East Bengal in good stead in the AFC Champions League beginning later this year. “We will certainly be on a high, in the knowledge that we can at least fight against teams from higher-ranked countries.
“We are confident now. We have realised we are not inferior to anybody. It’s just that we don’t get to play at the international level too often. The belief that we Indians can also match superior teams has been our biggest gain from this tournament,” said Nandy.
The goalkeeper thinks he still needs to improve in all areas. “I’ll be finished if I start thinking I am perfect in all departments. I must not lose the urge to keep improving. I still have a long way to go.”
Nandy rates former international Hemanta Dora as his favourite goalkeeper. “I have heard a lot about Bhaskar Ganguly and Atanu Bhattacharya, but never saw them in action. Internationally, I admire watching Fabien Barthez.”