The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bagan test for Md. Sporting

Calcutta: If success is sweet, the hunger for it may not look so bitter, after all. And what better way can it be fed and swelled than by dangling baits of huge incentives'

No doubt, Mohammedan Sporting have struck it hard on the face of it, before their Calcutta Football League Super Division clash with Mohun Bagan at Salt Lake Stadium on Thursday. Some may disagree with such an approach of the club officials to the match, but for them the postulation, however incongruous and unbecoming it may appear to be, stands: greed (if you dislike it, read it as ‘gift’) gives way to success.

Let’s get down to some of the bids Mohammedan Sporting club management, basking in a new-found eminence, has put on offer for the players on the match-eve. Rs. 1 lakh for the team’s win against the reigning champions; special allowance for the scorer and players with significant contribution to the match, and ever-enthusiastic officials’ stray announcements of a host of other incentives.

This is mind-boggling, but at the same time, it reflects how the black-and-white jersey has again risen to seize the initiatives in local scenario. If the presence of thousands of supporters during the team practice at the club ground, effected due to the club’s heady run in the league, is anything to go by, Mohun Bagan distinctly look a perfect foil to it.

They act like everything but champions, with coach Subrata Bhattacharya’s growing disenchantment with the new crops of his team. They had tasted defeats twice so far — against mediocre Port Trust and arch-rivals East Bengal — though this will not impede their way to the championship leg.

The green-and-maroon brigade has so far cumulated 15 points from seven matches, against Mohammedan Sporting’s 19 from the same number of matches. East Bengal are leading the fray with 21 points from eight outings.

However, what is more worrying is that Subrata seems to have lost faith in his new recruits. “Until I get my players from the national squad (currently in England to play friendlies), I can hardly reach anywhere with this team,” he pointed out.

This is, in fact, Subrata’s oft-repeated uneasiness. But the coach is determined to have a try at it, knowing he has “a critical situation to deal with”.

“My team may not be playing to the best of its abilities, but such highs and lows are common in a long-lasting league,” he said. “Mohammedan Sporting have formed a good team this year, so it’s not going to be easy for us,” he added.

Accordingly, he has planned to rearrange his moves.

In his scheme of things, Subrata may pair his trump card, Jose Ramirez Barreto, with Sunil Chhetri, with George Ekeh, Mohun Bagan’s hattrick-hero in the last match, playing as central mid-fielder. While this will provide more mobility to his midfield, led by Basudeb Mondal, his ever-suspect back-line will also get a frontal shield, the coach felt. “I’ve to deal with the match in my own way,” he maintained.

Interestingly, Mohun Bagan signed Tollygunge Agragami defender Partha Sarathi De, late Wednesday night. However, whether he will feature in the XI or not, will de decided by the think-tank Thursday morning.

Thursday’s tie, in more than one respect, boils down to a test of attitude, rather than of nerves, for both clubs. But Mohammedan Sporting coach, Mohammed Habeeb, is standing on a better position.

Though describing his team as “underdogs”, he knew he had a better time to exploit and he must call the shots.

“I’ll stick to the same squad (which played against Bhratri Sangha in the previous match) in the same 4-4-2 formation”, Habeeb revealed.

Post script: All through the day, there had been frantic queues for tickets in the Mohammedan Sporting club tent. However, IFA had rejected the club’s request to extend the ticket-selling time till Thursday afternoon, though a turn-out of 50,000 is highly expected, a club official said.

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