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Karim apologises to the fans

Karim Bencharifa

Calcutta: A helmet was the most sought-after object for Okolie Odafe at the end of Sunday’s Mohun Bagan vs Rangdajied United match at the Salt Lake Stadium.

While one may think it was for protecting the Nigerian striker’s head after the humiliating 0-2 loss, it was actually meant to hide his identity as he slipped through the ‘backdoor’ even as hundreds of fans waited near the team bus to vent their frustration.

The striker had his car parked near the main entrance, but the driver didn’t dare, or couldn’t, move it till the police’s pilot van made way through the agitated fans. Odafe, obviously, couldn’t wait that long as the ‘Go back Odafe’ chants must have been reverberating in his eardrums.

One wonders if Odafe could have got a little leniency had he taken coach Karim Bencharifa’s path of apologising to the fans. Karim, before leaving the stadium after the end of the match, faced the gallery with folded hands and head hung low.

Later, at the media conference, the Moroccan coach admitted that it was a gesture in apology. “Yes, I apologised to the fans… I know what they expect from me… So I think it was right that I apologised to them after the match,” Karim said.

Asked why didn’t his players think of doing something similar, Karim said: “Look, I’m 45 years old… I have the maturity of understanding the gravity of the situation… You can’t expect that from a young bunch. I admit that we have let down the fans, but it wasn’t deliberate… We tried our best.”

“Actually, teams like Rangdajied, Mumbai FC are not the same team as they were two months back. With the addition of fresh players from the (postponed) IMG-R league, they have become stronger… The balance has changed,” he added.

Karim looked a tired man at the media conference. That may be because the questions are increasing with every passing day while the answers are getting fewer. He didn’t blame his players though.

“I can’t blame my players… They tried… They gave their hundred per cent. As soon as the final whistle was blown, you could see six-seven of my players collapsing to the ground. That proves how devastated they were with the result,” he said.

Karim, however, admitted that it’s getting difficult for him personally. “It’s getting extremely difficult for me… I'm not used to this kind of a situation… Interestingly, even Dempo are in a similar situation as us. But they can afford the time to get their house in order. For us, it’s a do-or-die situation,” he said.

The coach still believes that if everybody sits together and analyses the crisis, there may be a way out.

He also recollected how he was in a similar situation in 2008 when Bagan had lost four of their five home matches at one stage. But when asked if there are players who can inspire the team for a turnaround, all that Karim said was: “No comments.”

Nothing else could have explained Bagan’s plight in clearer words, perhaps!