| Bhaichung Bhutia works out with his new teammates on his first day of practice at Mohun Bagan ground Friday. Picture by Pabitra Das
Calcutta: Training sessions at Mohun Bagan this season had hardly attracted fans with the team faring poorly in the local league. Things improved somewhat on Friday with Bhaichuing Bhutia spending his first day at the office for his new club.
The India captain, along with national teammates Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, Satish Bharti and Rennedy Singh, joined Jose Ramirez Barreto in practice for the September 11 Asian Champions League first-leg away tie against Sri Lanka’s Sanders.
The team is somewhat low on confidence after losing three of the nine matches this season, felt Bhutia, coach Subrata Bhattacharya and Barreto, but said in unison that the arrival of the quartet will have a positive impact. Forging a combination is foremost in the coach’s mind and the players went through the paces in the morning as well as in the evening.
“Confidence is a problem at the moment, but it’s up to the players to cope with pressure and deliver. It doesn’t happen overnight and the players need the support of all concerned,” said Bhutia. The coach and Barreto felt it was good to play the first match in the prestigious tournament away from home since the pressure will be less.
Bhutia, however, felt growing expectations should rather make one work harder. Answering whether his return to Indian club football after three nondescript seasons with Bury FC in England puts him under additional pressure, Bhutia said: “When expectations are high, I work that much harder to live up to them.”
Asked whether he will finally play for Bengal in the Santosh Trophy, Bhutia avoided a direct reply, but indications are, he will actually turn up for Sikkim — the state of his origin — following the new AIFF directive. Bhutia’s name features in the list of Bengal probables named Wednesday.
The Mohun Bagan coach, from whom members of the club’s executive committee have demanded an explanation for alleged derogatory remarks, was still worried about his team’s defence. Subrata will revert back to the 4-4-2 format in Colombo instead of the 3-5-2 system he tried to implement in the local league.
In this scheme of things, Lolendra Singh and Dulal Biswas will return to their usual wing-back position with Satish Bharti and Yakubu as central defenders. Nigerian George Ekeh, who the coach feels has added balance to the side, will play as central midfielder alongside Basudeb Mondal.
Bhutia and Barreto will, of course, form the much-awaited attacking combination. The club, meanwhile, announced an 18-member squad Friday for the first-leg tie. The second-leg match will be played at Salt Lake Stadium on September 22.
Goalkeepers: Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, Bivash Ghosh. Defenders: Santosh Singh, Dulal Biswas, Lolendra Singh, Partha Sarathi Dey, Yakubu, Satyabrata Bhowmick, Kajal Bhattacharya.
Midfielders: Basudeb Mondal, Rennedy Singh, Jayanta Sen, George Ekeh.
Forwards: Amar Ganguly, Sunil Chettri, Jose Ramirez Barreto, Bhaichung Bhutia.