| Sasthi Duley, I.M. Vijayan, K. Kulothungan and Arun Malhotra (left to right) share a light moment during East Bengal’s practice on Wednesday. Pictures by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: As he was preparing to leave the ground after Wednesday morning’s practice session, a teaser was thrown at I.M. Vijayan: “Are you under pressure'” One of India’s all-time soccer greats smiled, bypassed the question and, instead, said in an unusually husky voice: “Sarkar dekho, bahut achcha film hain. I’ve just watched it and am yet to get over it.”
Vijayan is well aware he’s in the twilight of his career and so can easily relate to the movie’s protagonist Suresh Nagre, played by Amitabh Bachchan. But unlike in the celluloid version, the charismatic striker from Kerala is not intent on passing his legacy to youngsters like Syed Rahim Nabi till he’s given it another serious effort.
As East Bengal and Mohun Bagan prepared for the season’s first derby on Thursday, Vijayan’s hopes rested on coach Subhas Bhowmick. Asked whether he will play, the veteran ' who wishes to draw the curtain on his illustrious career following a stint with the red-and-golds ' again sounded philosophic: “Sarkar jane.”
Bhowmick preferred to live in Nagre’s world of silence, it wasn’t possible to read his mind. Even though Vijayan was paired with Nabi in the practice ‘game’ Wednesday morning, it’s unlikely he would feature in the starting line-up.
With the trio of Habibur Rahman Mondal, Debabrata Roy and Shylo Malsawmtluanga returning from Fiji on Wednesday night, Bhowmick’s options have opened up and must have stopped him from settling the XI. But ignoring Vijayan fully will be an extreme step. Especially if there is someone called Amal Dutta to counter with.
The grand old man of Indian football is maintaining a low profile. If one intends taking him down memory lane to 1997 (the year that saw his verbal battles with P.K. Banerjee touching a new high), Dutta politely begs pardon, saying he doesn’t live in the past.
East Bengal won that match 4-1, causing a dent in Dutta’s all-conquering Diamond System.
“They say history repeats itself, but I believe it comes back in new form, with new promises,” he said on the eve of big match. So it’s Mexican System that everybody is talking about now.
“Today’s football is not about going into a match with a draw or win in mind. It’s about maintaining a balance throughout. The push for winning or going through the motion will come along the way.
“I’m still doubtful whether such a system can be experimented in the Indian context. Unless there is an effort ' intensity of an effort, I would rather say ' you will not taste the sweetness of your perspiration and thus, you will not succeed' It’s as simple as that,” Dutta pointed out.
His captain Mehtab Hussain seemed to be working on a formula for success. “The East Bengal defence is not responding well to quick attacks. Let’s see how we can take advantage of this,” he said.
His opposite number pooh-poohed such an idea. “These clashes are always 50-50. The team which plays 10 per cent better will have the winning edge,” countered Dipankar Roy.
East Bengal assistant coach Bikash Panji spoke the same language. “Tomorrow our worry is Mohun Bagan, not their coach or the system. Though we are improving in all departments of the game, I don’t want to consider our team as favourites,” he said.
Newcomer Jatin Bisht agrees. “Both teams have some strengths and weaknesses but we need to give special attention to the Mohun Bagan midfield,” he said.
As silence prevails in Bhowmick’s world and balance being highlighted by his aged ‘rival’, it may just turn out to be a safety-first display at the Salt Lake Stadium under lights. “We won’t go to attack keeping our own doors open,” said Dutta. It could well be Bhowmick’s strategy as well.
Togo player signs
Just hours before the big clash, Mohun Bagan received a boost when Togo’s Yao Rodrigue Glay became eligible for selection.
The Togo striker’s international transfer certificate was available in the evening on Wednesday and Mohun Bagan officials wasted no time in getting him to sign across the dotted lines at the IFA office.
According to IFA rules, a player can be picked for a match if he signs a day before the outing.
East Bengal (likely): Naseem Akhtar/ Rajat Ghosh Dastidar; Arun Malhotra, Covan Lawrence, Gurpreet Singh/Debabrata Roy, Jatin Bisht, Debjit Ghosh, Bernard Pires, R.C Prakash, Saumik Dey, Syed Rahim Nabi, K. Kulothungan/ Shylo Malsawmtluanga.
Mohun Bagan (likely): Subrata Pal; Eduardo Coelho, Mehrajuddin Wadao, Manitombi Singh, Sanjay Parte, Basudeb Mondal, Dharamjit Singh, Noel Wilson, Mehtab Hussain, Dipendu Bisw-as/Jerry Zirsanga, Sushil Kumar Singh.