| Mohammedan Sporting’s technical adviser P.K. Banerjee offers tips to coach Mohammed Habeeb at the club tent on Thursday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Mohammedan Sporting are on the threshold of making their way back into the elite of Indian soccer. And the man to whom the millions of fans owe this success in the Tata Federation Cup, won’t be there during the final against Mahindra United.
P.K. Banerjee, Mohammedan Sporting’s technical adviser, will be in Delhi on Saturday to attend a meeting of the Arjuna Awards committee, of which he is the chairman. But coach Mohammed Habeeb doesn’t think the absence of PK will be too big a factor.
“Yes, he is a good motivator. But he doesn’t have a magic wand,” Habeeb told The Telegraph on Thursday.
The coach felt that one man can never be instrumental in the team’s passage to the final. “It’s been a total team effort. Everyone in the club has done their bit and we’re like a happy family,” Habeeb said.
“I’ve worked with the boys for more than a year. I know what the boys need best.”
PK, too, didn’t feel his absence will make too much of a difference. “I’m sure the boys will be up to it,” PK said after practice at the club ground. He, however, rated Mahindra United very highly.
“They are a very good side with Jules Alberto and S. Venkatesh being the key men. We’ll have to chalk out a strategy to keep them in check,” the veteran coach said.
He, however, didn’t specify the details of the gameplan.
Habeeb said his boys will be keen to win the tournament, if not for themselves, for the departed soul of Maqsood Alam.
Alam died on Tuesday returning home from the Salt Lake Stadium after Mohammedan Sporting won their semi-final against Mohun Bagan.
“I’ve told my boys if they win it tomorrow, Alam’s soul will rest in peace,” Habeeb said.
He also added these fans have been the real lifeline of his side.
“In fact, the fans had a huge role in our semi-final victory. We had more supporters in the stands and that helped my boys psychologically.”
However, Mahindra United coach David Booth ruled out crowd-factor will make the difference. “We will play against the Mohammedan Sporting players, not their fans,” he said.
The Mahindra United players had a light work-out in the hotel lawn on Thursday after their gruelling semi-final encounter against Vasco on Wednesday.
“Mohammedan Sporting are a very organised side. We’ll have to be careful,” Booth said.
The British coach, who took charge of the Mumbai outfit seven weeks back, sounded extremely satisfied with the way his boys have shaped up.“They are working hard and gelling well as a unit. I’m confident they will deliver on Saturday.”
He also informed that Peter Siddqui and Odartey Lawson are nursing injuries, but are likely to be fit for the match.
Meanwhile, the Mohammedan Sporting supporters, players and officials will wear black badges on Saturday condemning the police action on Tuesday on their supporters, secretary Sultan Ahmed said.
The decision was taken in the executive committee meeting of the club on Thursday. They will also appeal to the AIFF to have a minute’s silence before the match in memory of the deceased Alam.
“I hope AIFF will keep our request,” the secretary added.
He also informed that the club will donate Rs. 25,000 to the family of Alam. “We’ll also write to the state government to make an inquiry into the police lathicharge,” Ahmed added.
The secretary also informed he had requested the IFA to host the match under floodlights, but was rejected. “They said it is not possible because the fixtures have already been released.”