The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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East Bengal kick off in practice mode

Calcutta: Each move East Bengal make this season is going to be followed carefully. Starting from their run of success last season to hiring a South African physical trainer and adding Bhaichung Bhutia to an already envious roster — expectations are high and East Bengal’s test begins Friday.

It will be against Eastern Railway. This is not the kind of test that Subhas Bhowmick’s team has been preparing for, but it has to start here — with the Calcutta Super Division League match, on East Bengal’s home turf. The coach doesn’t mind speaking his mind on how he is approaching it.

He has set some goals, ‘targets’ is how he describes it. “It’s necessary for the survival of Indian football to achieve some success at the international level. That’s what I want to do this season, albeit within the Asian confines.” He was referring to the ASEAN Club Cup to be held in Indonesia next month.

“Our preparations are focussed on that. Club officials, sponsors, players, all know that. The fans should also realise this and be patient, rather than expecting big straightaway.” Bhowmick didn’t forget to mention that his plans have suffered setbacks from at least two fronts.

The AIFF’s recent four-day camp to assess the physical ability and condition of players, Bhowmick said, was one, with Sunday’s IFA-organised one-day exhibition meet being the other. “I welcome the first, since it had to be done at some point, but the second one wasn’t indispensable,” said the coach, who had earlier dubbed that event a circus.

“That tournament disrupted my programme and the hectic schedule of the local league isn’t going to do my cause any good. Our preparation will once again be interrupted. I have told my players to take these matches as serious practice sessions to prepare for the ASEAN championship.”

As for his team, Bhowmick informed that Alvito D’Cunha and M. Suresh — both regulars last season — are not in perfect shape, while there is also a question mark over Chandan Das. The rest, including Bhutia the star, are available for selection.

Even with two leading players sidelined and foreigners Douglas da Silva and Mike Okoro yet to arrive, Bhowmick has a host of almost-equally capable players to choose from. The problem of plenty could be felt most acutely in the defensive half of Bhowmick’s armoury.

The coach, though, doesn’t think it’s a problem. “Our bench strength was just as good in the previous season. Nobody is indispensable in my scheme of things. It all depends on how one performs.”

Bhowmick knows expectations are mounting and that’s why he is playing down the instant success bit. That, however, is unlikely to satisfy the fans. Rather unfortunately, his team has to perform right from the start. The test begins Friday, irrespective of how strong or weak the opposition is.

Eastern Railway, coached by Shankar Maitra, have got off to a winning start. They beat Railway FC 3-1 Tuesday with Binoy Saha scoring a hattrick.

Tolly’s turf concern

Tollygunge Agragami, under new coach Subrata Bhattacharya, will also play their first match Friday, against Railway FC at Rabindra Sarobar Stadium. More than the injuries to Shamsi Reza and Srikanta Dutta — which can rule them out of the match — the condition of the ground is bothering Bhattacharya.

His charges didn’t train at the main stadium Thursday, so that the wet turf doesn’t suffer further battering. The coach is trying to underplay Sunday’s triumph, saying it’s nothing more than a morale-booster. “But we will take a shot at the title and must collect full points Friday.”

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