| Bhaichung Bhutia (left) and Jose Ramirez Barreto (right) warm up with teammates on the eve of the derby clash
Calcutta: There has been, finally it seems, a change in attitude in the two teams. Priorities aren’t the same. Mohun Bagan crave for “pride”, still, mostly because there possibly isn’t much else to achieve in the 16th round of the Oil PSU National Football League; East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick says there’s no way he’s going to psychologically overburden his players this time. They will go through this match as just another important one.
This pan-fried tag of a ‘Big Match’ isn’t sticking as it used to. Mohun Bagan have a good reason — East Bengal are 11 points ahead in the race, and having won no more than the All-Airlines Cup this season, this lone match looks outrageously overblown. And East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick realises this will be a big day for him personally.
“I made this mistake in 1999… I pushed the players to hard, and I quit… This time I’ll take this strategically. I am not keeping in mind the fact that we are 11 points ahead,” said Bhowmick.
If it can be called a ‘positive’ at this stage, Mohun Bagan have one for Tuesday. They will again be able to field a full team at the Salt Lake Stadium. Bhaichung Bhutia returns, so Jose Ramirez Barreto should fall back to assist Bhutia and George Ekeh ahead. How fit is Bhaichung' “He is as fit as an Indian generally is,” was Mohun Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya’s cryptic answer. Bhaichung himself says he “will try my level best to win.”
Asked about injuries, though, Bhattacharya loves to put in as many names as he can. “There were many injured and just-recovered (Bhaichung, Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, Rennedy Singh…) and I would still consider them of doubtful fitness.”
Only Brazilian Barreto seemed pragmatic: “Bhaichung is back, and when the two (with Ekeh) man the attack, I am a trifle relieved that there will be less pressure on me.”
Bhattacharya has a new theory, though. He doesn’t believe any more that his defence remains prone to breach. “We have conceded 15 goals, so have they,” so where’s the disparity in the two defence line-ups'” he asks. In other words, maybe: “We have a better attack line for tomorrow, and you make your judgements based on that.”
Bhowmick can show an expansive mood, and he did: “Do not forget that their coach (Bhattacharya) is a pro, and an experienced one at that. He has given his club many trophies… Also, at the top, the teams vary only marginally in strength. On their day any club can do it…
Bhowmick’s team, too, have suffered through injuries. Gilmar Goncalves and Anit Ghosh (leg injury) remain in sick bay and are almost sure to miss the big day. However, the three-foreigner quota will be completed by leading scorer Mike Okoro, Douglas de Silva (back after a groin injury) and Suley Musah (to return after a one-match wait through a double-booking).
Considering Okoro’s recent form and that incredible penchant for scoring, Bhattacharya’s silent claim of presenting a better attack line-up could suddenly sound hollow Tuesday afternoon. But then Bhattacharya has put it mildly — The “It would be nice if we could win tomorrow” type. He has complained and complained, and finally he believes that there is nothing wrong with his technique. Only much wrong with the team composition. Next season, if he is around, he is sure to pitch in with suggestions when the big boys go shopping.
East Bengal (from): Sandip Nandy, Sangram Mukherjee, Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Dipak Mondal, M. Suresh, Sashthi Duley, Suley Musah, Chandan Das, S. Malswamtluanga, S. Venkatesh, Alvito D’Cunha, Subhash Chakraborty, Mike Okoro, K. Kulothungan, Douglas de Silva.
Mohun Bagan (from): Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, Dulal Biswas, Yakubu Rabiu, Satish Bharti, Lolendra Singh, Basudeb Mondal, Rennedy Singh, Palash Karmakar, Jose Ramirez Barreto, Ranjan Dey, Jayanta Sen, Bhaichung Bhutia, George Ekeh.