| Leander Paes with Bhaichung Bhutia and Subrata Bhattacharya at the Mohun Bagan practice session Thursday
Calcutta: With the derby on Sunday closing in, Mohun Bagan had a surprise visitor in Leander Paes at their practice Thursday afternoon. The tennis star went through some soccer drills with the Bagan players for about half-an-hour and interacted with his ‘long-time friend’ Bhaichung Bhutia.
Later talking to reporters, Leander said: “Playing soccer is a way of keeping myself fit. And it’s really been a passion for me over the years.”
Though he didn’t divulge whom he would be favouring for Sunday’s derby, Leander said: “It’s great to see the game grow in Calcutta and with such wonderful players like Bhaichung and Barreto around, it’ll get the boost.”
The former world No. 1 doubles player informed that he’ll be off to Florida Saturday for a three-week pre-season training programme.
Meanwhile, the Bagan camp lamented missing the services of George Ekeh for the crunch game. He received his second yellow card in the match against Mahindra United in Mumbai Tuesday.
“He’s such a good player and we have to work harder to cover his absence,” Bhaichung said. But he himself was not quite sure whether he will be able to play. “An injury in the calf-muscle always takes time to heal. I desperately want to play, but I don’t know whether it’ll be possible.” The striker added that he will wait till the last minute before taking a final decision on his availability for the game Sunday.
Coach Subrata Bhattacharya, however, made it clear that it will not be possible to get to the field without Bhaichung. “The pressure of the situation is such that it’s tough to give him the rest. I think he will be fit for the match,” Subrata opined.
On the other hand, Mohun Bagan’s star Jose Ramirez Barreto reacted strongly to his Brazilian counterpart in the East Bengal camp, Gilmar da Silva Goncalves’ comment that he will surpass Barreto.
“It’s all about doing it on the field. He’ll have to prove himself,” Barreto remarked. He added that he had played with Gilmar at Gremio. “He is a good ball-player and will definitely add to East Bengal’s strength.”
East Bengal defender Musah may miss the derby. He has an injury and is likely to replaced by Subhashish Roy Chowdhury.