| Mohun Bagan coach Aloke Mukherjee explains strategy to his wards on Wednesday morning. Mohun Bagan take on Tollygunge Agragami in the IFA Shield semi-final on Thursday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: There is an apparent contrast between Jose Ramirez Barreto as a player and Jose Ramirez Barreto as leader. The former is more focussed on the job at hand; the latter a visionary, a strong believer in good things to come for Mohun Bagan, of which he has over the years become an integral part.
On the eve of Thursday’s 109th Chlor-Mint IFA Shield semi-final against Tollygunge Agragami, Mohun Bagan will once again look to the Brazilian’s dual personality for a berth in the title-decider. And from the player’s own point of view, it seems to be the unfinished quest for the Holy Grail — handing his team the first trophy of the season.
“It’s not new that I’ve donned the leadership’s role. I want to give my hundred per cent for the team whatever condition it may be in,” Mohun Bagan’s No. 10 said on Wednesday, after the morning practice.
“We lost in the Federation Cup semi-finals (against Mohammedan Sporting), but have been able to force a play-off final (with holders East Bengal) in the League. Yes, we are improving and a win tomorrow means we’ll be in the final of another tournament,” he observed, bubbling with confidence.
For coach Aloke Mukherjee, such level of confidence is, however, tinged with concerns over players’ injuries.
Brazilian Marcos Parreira, the first-choice mate for Barreto in the attacking third, has ruled himself out with a knee injury, incurred during the team’s last match against Railway FC in Haldia. Sanjeev Maria suffered a cut on the forehead during that match, but will be available for manning the defence.
Veteran playmaker Basudeb Mondal is also in a 50-50 chance and has apparently asked the coach to field him later. Hardeep Singh Saini is yet to recover fully and therefore, doubtful. Added to this the coach’s clear-cut stand that he will not take any further risk with recuperating Ashim Biswas till the National League.
Aloke’s raison d’être — a fast improvement in the existing quagmire of official infighting — thus, looks as much on the job as jeopardised through injury setbacks. However, the coach was visibly peeved at some players being prone to suspect injuries. “Barring knee or hamstring injuries, everybody should try and make himself available whatever injuries he may be suffering from,” Aloke observed, without naming anybody.
But his solution to the problem is simple. “We have been playing on the trot, with absolutely no recovery period in between,” he said. “We need to pick and choose tournaments to avoid such a situation. The top priority must be the National League and taking a cue from the English Premier League, it needs to be extended. Then we should concentrate on the local League and the Federation Cup”.
Talking about the match, Aloke believes the fate of the first semi-final should be over within regulation time. “It’s quite obvious that Tollygunge Agragami’s intention will be to drag the match to the tie-breaker, but we should finish it off before that,” he said, highlighting Akeem Abolanle as “the man to watch” and picking Manik Barman and Amit Das for special mentions.
Palash Karmakar’s return to the playing XI is certain to up the coach’s confidence and the defender is likely to be used as a blocker in the middle third. Aloke has also dropped a hint that Akeem will not be allowed to move freely in and around the box.
Tollygunge coach Biswajit Das, however, is out to seek inspiration in the team’s triumph of the local season’s curtain-raiser, where the title was secured after defeating Mohun Bagan. “We’ll be definitely drawing motivation from the win,” Biswajit admitted. Biswajit is also toying with the idea of pushing Amit Das upfront and stationing Shamsi Reza in between his defence and midfield. He said: “We’ll be depending on counter-attacks tomorrow.”
Mohun Bagan: Prasanta Dora; Manitombi Singh, Deb Kumar Shasmal, Sanjeev Marya, Lolendra Singh; Mehtab Hossain, Palash Karmakar, Rennedy Singh, Rishi Kapoor; Jose Ramirez Barreto and Sunil Chhetri.
Tollygunge Agragami: Chinmay Banerjee; Isiaka Awoyemi, Kajal Bhattacharya, Partha Sarathi Dey, Gautam Debnath; Shamsi Reza; Manik Burman, Chinmay Sarkar, Suman Dutta; Akeem Abolanle, Amit Das.