The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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EB must get focus back soon
Alvito D'Cunha's absence is being felt in the midfield
Bhowmick should not repeat the mistake he made against Mohammedan Sporting

So the aura of invincibility around East Bengal is fading. The unbeatable tag has been torn off and even though they still look the best Indian team, others have realised that Subhas Bhowmick’s ASEAN Club Cup champions are very much mortals. This can lead to some good competition as other teams will try with added zest to enhance their reputation while playing against East Bengal. Bhowmick’s boys, too, will be keen to prove that the odd defeat is an exception, not the rule.

Bhowmick has picked his players very thoughtfully this season, with a lot of care and emphasis on bench-strength. He even displeased a few in the administration by insisting on Bhaichung Bhutia’s inclusion and forced some additional expenditure by hiring South African physical trainer Kevin Jackson. The vision he showed was commendable, but suddenly, the focus seems to have shifted. East Bengal and Bhowmick must take it as a serious warning.

The defeat against Mohammedan Sporting or the draw versus Mohun Bagan is not catastrophic. Setback is a way of life in sport and it affects even undisputed champions like Sachin Tendulkar or Pete Sampras. But the greats learn from that experience and come out stronger for the next challenge. Bhowmick and his boys now face the test to prove they are fit to deliver the goods through the season and their winning run didn’t end with the wonderful triumph in Jakarta.

An assessment of the East Bengal roster suggests their strength lies in midfield. They have the best of Indian talent as far as defence is concerned and in attack, there is Bhutia. Even then, midfield continues to be their backbone, the lack of creative element notwithstanding. The amount of load shouldered by Suley Musah and Douglas da Silva in the ASEAN Cup was unbelievable and these two, with Debjit Ghosh, can form a strong cover ahead of the deep defenders.

Bhowmick knows the importance of this second layer of protection, but paid for ignoring it in the Mohammedan Sporting match. Hopefully, he will not repeat the mistake. True, his team should have scored more in that 1-2 defeat, but it doesn’t hide the fact that they conceded two goals. The world is paying attention to defence first and then thinking of scoring. Bhowmick, a keen student of the game, knows the importance of this and must realise now that without luck, there is no room for such profligacy.

One drawback in Bhowmick’s system is the absence of a genuine playmaker. There is a lot of muscle in the midfield which can destroy the opponent’s game but can’t create on its own. That is why East Bengal have to employ power and speed in their build-ups more than the good through ball. Alvito D’Cunha is one who can do this and Bhowmick sorely missed him in the last two Super Division games.

But in a long and gruelling season, D’Cunha will pick up the odd injury and East Bengal will suffer if that happens again. The other one who could have done this job — Sashthi Duley — is operating from the rear and seldom gets the chance to use his dribbling skills in the rival half. But these are things Bhowmick knew when he picked his players and still devised a powerful alternative.

What worries me more is the attitude shown by East Bengal in their previous match. They thought they would once again make mincemeat of the rivals they had beaten 4-1 just a few days ago. They probably forgot that records don’t win matches, performance does. This is worse than complacency and East Bengal will pay a bigger price if they don’t sort it out immediately.

Knowing Bhowmick, I am sure he is aware of this and trying to set things right. But the coach must make sure that it’s just the players who are complacent and not him. His strategy against Mohammedan Sporting suggested he, too, was part of the complacency wave. Focus is the name of the game and East Bengal must ensure they don’t lose it.

I must also congratulate Tata Steel for organising an international tournament for juniors. The Tatas have been keen backers of sport and sportsmen for years and I am not surprised to see them do it once again. Having seen their organisational ability and work ethics from close quarters, I am sure it will be another flawless effort.

In India, rarely do people pay attention to aspects like nurturing juniors and organising exposure events for them. The Tata Football Academy has been doing it silently and consistently for over a decade now and the fresh endeavour deserves special praise.

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