The real action in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) begins today when East Bengal play Kalighat MS. Thanks to the IFA’s lackadaisical attitude, the local league doesn’t evoke the excitement it used to a decade ago. Still the CFL has some relevance as it gives the big guns an idea about where they stand. The Telegraph gives you a lowdown on the traditional Big Three and beyond. Read on...
Eight trophies over the last three seasons… Not many teams have been as successful as East Bengal lately. With core of the team remaining intact, East Bengal will certainly aim to go a step ahead this time around and establish themselves as the strongest of all.
New coach Marcos Falopa, who has the big task of filling in the shoes of Trevor James Morgan, will like his team to begin on a winning note.
Strengths: The induction of Ryuji Sueoka and James Moga has certainly added to the strength of East Bengal.
Sueoka’s arrival seems to be the ideal solution to the departure of Penn Orji, who played a pivotal role in the attacking third for the last three seasons. The Japanese’s abilities as midfielder should make the task a lot easier for Mehtab Hussain, who has consistently delivered as a defensive screen.
Besides, Harmanjot Khabra’s game too has improved by leaps and bounds, providing him with the ability to make up for the absence of a key player in the midfield.
Having someone like Moga in the upfront should reduce the workload of Edeh Chidi, who often has fallen short of support in the previous season due to the absence of an ideal strike partner. Presence of Uga Okpara in the heart of the defence gives East Bengal another plus point.
Possessing an ability to guard the entire defence single-handedly, the Nigerian’s aggression too is another aspect that makes the job a lot more difficult for rival forwards.
Weaknesses: Over-dependence on Uga has been a major concern for the defence, something that has been exposed mainly in the I-League against strong opponents.
Also, Ryuji Sueoka and James Moga not yet being 100 per cent fit could seriously go on to affect the balance and rhythm of the side. Besides, it needs to be seen how quickly the players adjust with the ways and methods of coach Falopa.
Captain: Mehtab Hussain
Coach: Marcos Falopa
Winners: 34 times
2012-13 report card: Fed Cup & CFL champions; IFA Shield runners-up
They are going through a rough patch for the last three years. They have last won the CFL title in 2009-10. Since then, they have always come second behind arch-rivals East Bengal. Incidentally, the 2009-10 trophy has also been the last major tournament the club has won. In I-League, Bagan have fared more poorly.
Their best finish of fourth came a couple of seasons ago. With a master tactician in Karim Bencharifa, Bagan will definitely seek a change in their fortunes.
Strengths: When on song, Okolie Odafe can prove to be a nightmare for the opponent defenders. But for that, he has to be injury-free. At present, he is not. Bagan have roped in the talented young Katsumi Yusa and experienced Anthony Pereira.
Apart from Odafe’s ‘poaching’ skills, Bagan’s success will also depend on how these two combine in the midfield.
Weaknesses: The defence looks a little shaky. Despite Anyichie Echezona’s heroics at the back last season, others have failed to impress. One of the major reasons for Bagan’s failure is their inability to play as a unit. Karim needs to marshal his resources well and get the best out of every player.
Captain: Okolie Odafe
Coach: Karim Bencharifa
Winners: 29 times
2012-13 report card: CFL runners-up
Mohammedan Sporting have been off the limelight for a long time now. That they have won a major tournament — the Rovers Cup — 27 years ago would give one an idea about their failings.
But they start with a new promise this season. They are the favourites to win the CFL and expectations are high from the fans. After qualifying for the I-League, the officials have made some ambitious signings in Tolgay Ozebe and Penn Orji.
What makes them a strong outfit this time around is their balanced squad. Coupled with a hard taskmaster in coach Abdul Aziz Moshood, Mohammedan Sporting will be the team to beat.
Strengths: The Tolgay Ozebe and Penn Orji combination created magic for East Bengal. The duo will be eager to replicate the magic for Mohammedan Sporting. While the Tolgay-Penn combination will be key upfront, Luciano Sabrosa will give them stability at the back.
The defender’s positional awareness and physical presence has helped him to keep opponent strikers at bay. Under Moshood, the players have used the lengthy pre-season to improve their fitness by leaps and bounds.
Weaknesses: With the team back in I-League, there will be enormous pressure on the players to deliver. It will be important that the players don’t wilt. Also, the midfield looks a bit weak.
Captain: R. Dhanarajan
Coach: Abdul Aziz Moshood
Winners: 11 times
2012-13 report card: Qualified for the I-League
BEYOND THE BIG THREE
Flushed with funds, United Sports Club created a ripple last season. They came third. But this time with no funds, they are under-prepared. And among the smaller teams it’s Railway FC who are looking good at this moment.
Railway FC’s accent is on youth this season and till now it’s paying off. They have logged 29 points from 15 matches and will pose quite a few problems for the big names.
They have two quality foreigners in Samuel Eke and Orok Orok, while youngsters like Sukumar Roy, Tanmay Kundu and Sukumar Banerjee have been in top form.
“We are playing well and hope to continue doing well this season. If the CFL doesn’t get dragged till mid-2014 and ends by January we have a good chance of finishing top-five,” coach Sourin Dutta said.
All about the IFA League
Mohammedan Sporting were the first Indian team to win the league in 1934.
Apart from the Big Three, Eastern Railway are the only other team in the last 79 years to win the league. They won in 1958.
East Bengal hold the record of winning the league for six consecutive times — 1970 – 1975.
East Bengal are the only Indian team to be twice crowned champions without conceding a single goal — 1972 and 1991. They also had all-win records in 1975 and 1977.
In 1966, Mohun Bagan scored 89 goals in 28 matches, highest number of goals ever scored in a single edition of the league.
Chima Okerie has been the highest scorer for a record seven times — 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1998, 1999.