| East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick watches the team practise in a pensive mood on Saturday, while Mohun Bagan’s main man Jose Ramirez Barreto (picture left) stretches with teammates at the club ground. Pictures by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta, Sept. 27: This possibly is the best opportunity for Mohun Bagan in a long time, to step out and strike against East Bengal. Because it has been a long time since East Bengal have looked so vulnerable.
The 109th Chlor-Mint IFA Shield final on Sunday at the Salt Lake Stadium wouldn’t be more than a mere piece of statistic in Indian soccer history, whichever team wins. But this excess pressure on the players could result in a loss of good footballing talent in the country. To this extent, East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick is probably worried and disgusted. He wouldn’t say, though.
Look at the players East Bengal will surely miss on Sunday: Bhaichung Bhutia (in Malaysia), Mike Okoro (in Poland), Douglas da Silva (double booking) and Mahesh Gawli (was down with the flu and released from nursing home this evening). Till before the semi-final Alvito D’Cunha (major groin muscle injury) believed he could sit out the Shield and recover. There is possibility now that he would be on the bench and then, maybe, on the field, too. Debjit Ghosh, his injury notwithstanding, could be playing for some time. M. Suresh should also be at hand for the coach to use.
“I have chosen my players with the clear understanding that they will be fighting for their place in the first XI,” said Bhowmick. “I would like to see them fight tomorrow, I would like to see East Bengal play and not worry over which player we are missing.”
Brave words, those, but deep within, there is this uneasiness. “Of course there is tension,” he says, “there should be, ahead of each derby match. But that is strategy…” Then he said he was not feeling quite right, about “something”. Could be football, could be personal, he wouldn’t say. It is known, though, that Subhas Bhowmick does not bring his personal worries to the club and provide hints. Maybe it is this overuse of players issue.
East Bengal’s worry is cause for joy in Mohun Bagan. “Yes, this is surely a great opportunity,” explained coach Aloke Mukherjee, “but one must realise that there aren’t players in my ranks as well.” Ashim Biswas will not be available, they don’t have Hardeep Gill, and Imran Khan is injured and will be out. But that isn’t a crippling line-up loss (Biswas has been out for quite some time anyway). And Bagan’s key man Jose Ramirez Barreto is around to boot initiatives; that’s a big plus. Rennedy Singh also will have his big role.
What could worry Mukherjee is a less than 100 per cent Basudeb Mondal (“knee injury, problem with turning”) and a recovering Marcos Parreira. Both, though, have said that they will be available on the morrow.
“You know, this is a Mohun Bagan-East Bengal match, a matter of the mind, more than strategy,” said Mukherjee. “It will be mental condition of the players on that day and on the field that will decide where they will go and take the team.” Mukherjee admitted that the loss of Douglas for East Bengal is his gain, what with the defence that he has.
And this loss of Douglas — the coach said the booked tackle was definitely not a foolhardy thing for Douglas to do in the semi-final, “because in a 50-50 situation any player would do it and I am okay with that” — means extra load on Suley Musah’s shoulders. They are broad enough to have taken in a lot lately, but he has yet to fit into his ‘own’ slot. Where he will be used tomorrow the coach said he “will decide in the morning”.
Dipankar Roy’s return to scoring form had made Bhowmick happy, but he would rather depend on Bijen Singh and an overlapping Shylo Malsawmtluanga for consistency. The defence still worries, but options are limited for Bhowmick.
In the end, though, it will boil down to what both coaches pointed out — all that is in the head.
EAST BENGAL (from): Sangram Mukherjee/Sandip Nandy, Sur Kumar Singh, Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Dipak Mondal, Debjit Ghosh, Sasthi Duley, Chandan Das, Sujoy Dutta, M. Suresh, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Suley Musah, Dipankar Roy, Bijen Singh, K. Kulothungan, Raman Vijayan.
MOHUN BAGAN (from): Prasanta Dora; Manitombi Singh, Deb Kumar Shasmal, Harpreet Singh, Sanjeev Maria, Lolendra Singh, Babun Kar, Mehtab Hossain, Rennedy Singh, Palash Karmakar, Rishi Kapoor; Jose Ramirez Barreto, Sunil Chhetri, Marcos Parreira.