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Alarm bells ringing, but Big 3 in slumber

Bhaichung Bhutia

Calcutta: The alarm bells are ringing, but the Big Three are deep in their slumber.

Once again, the Calcutta-based I-League teams, barring United SC, are struggling to find their feet.

A sense of déjà vu, isn’t it? Every season the city clubs start with the hope of bringing back the I-League, and then it ends in despair. This season, as of now, too seems to be heading that way.

While East Bengal lost their away match on Monday to Mumbai FC, Mohun Bagan are winless since October 26. Mohammedan Sporting, who broke the bank on their foreign recruits are also on the same boat as Bagan, recording their last win on November 6.

The National League hasn’t come to the city after 2003-04 when Subhas Bhowmick’s all-conquering East Bengal lifted the title.

In the last three years East Bengal though came close, but somehow failed to hit the bullseye. They finished runners-up twice and came third once. That they performed well was mainly because of the club’s decision to stick with Trevor James Morgan for three seasons. It paid dividends as East Bengal, who before Morgan took over, used to hover over the relegation zone even before the league entered its business end.

“I don’t believe that it’s over for the Calcutta clubs… Yes they are struggling at this point in time, but the season is not over yet,” Morgan told The Telegraph.

Morgan said stability does play role in a club’s success. “Yes, it helps. If you see Bangalore FC, they are doing well because there is stability. As far as East Bengal is concerned, they have a squad which can beat any team on any given day… Give them some time… I am sure they will fire,” Morgan said hours before East Bengal lost to Mumbai FC.

Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia, who was a vital cog in the East Bengal wheel in 2003-04, too refused to buy the fact that it’s over for Calcutta teams. “East Bengal have done well in the AFC Cup... They lost to Kuwait SC, the eventual champions, in semis…

“As far as Mohun Bagan is concerned, it’s just that their main player — Okolie Odafe — is returning from an injury. Once he gets going, Bagan will be a different proposition. A clearer picture will emerge after February,” Bhaichung said. “We have to be patient. It’s too early to write the epitaph,” he urged.

Bhaichung though agreed that the Calcutta teams have to buck up and fast. “The mentality has to change… That much I can say,” he said.

The legendary P.K. Banerjee, however, was scathing in his attack. He did not mince his words and blamed the players, as well as the officials, for the all the wrongs.

“The players have become greedy and the officials have to get out of their myopic vision. Most of the players are unfit… If you do not take the pre-season seriously, you have to pay,” PK said.

The Calcutta Big Three are notorious for their hire-and-fire policy. They sack coaches at the drop of a hat and ridicule their foreign recruits whenever they fail to deliver. Nobody knows that better than Beto. During his stint with Bagan a decade back, Beto was ridiculed every day.

“Calcutta teams are more interested about weekly results… They forget the simple fact that in football, long-term planning is required. I played years ago in Bagan and that was my reading. You have to think about the season… Calcutta is too result-oriented,” the Dempo maestro said.

However, there’s a silver lining in the gloom in the form of United SC. Though cash-strapped, United SC are among the top-five of the I-League at present.

“…That’s because the coach (Eelco Schattorie) and the players are more involved and the officials are very transparent. You will not find that in the Big Three… We are like a family,” club director Nabab Bhattacharya said.