Time to regain lost glory - EB, BAGAN HAVE TO PROVE METTLE AS ANOTHER I-LEAGUE COMES CALLING

Read more below

By FREE-KICK - PK BANERJEE
  • Published 17.01.15
  •  
Jubilant Bengaluru FC players and support staff after winning the I-League in 2014. The Sunil Chetri-led outfit are one of the favourites for the title. Picture courtesy Bengaluru FC

The eighth edition of the I-League beginning on Saturday could prove to be an acid test for Indian football as well as the two Calcutta giants. Having watched the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL) and then the Federation Cup for the past three months, I am convinced that the traditional Indian tournaments and clubs are facing the danger of being swept away by the franchise-based football. To counter the wave, the I-League will have to be more market savvy. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) should play a little more active role to bring back the spectators to the grounds. While thousands watched the ISL, the same Indian footballers played in front of empty stands in the Federation Cup. It proved that AIFF’s claim of ISL will benefit Indian football was hollow.

I agree that it is not possible for the AIFF to match the ISL in spending millions for promotional activities. At the same time, the AIFF and the clubs can join hands to chalk out a feasible programme to bring more fans to the ground. I was happy to find that the Goa clubs in the I League had launched such a venture. In contrast, the two Calcutta clubs look rudderless on the eve of the I-League.

Having said that, I also must say the Calcutta clubs should pull up their socks to make some impact at the national level. Both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal nowadays rarely win big tournaments and mostly make the news for all the wrong reasons. Now that the option of watching franchise-based football is available, the fans, I am afraid to say, might stop backing the traditional clubs.

Neither Mohun Bagan nor East Bengal could ever win the I-League — both the teams won the National Football League thrice each — but I see no reason why they can’t do it this time. Though they did not do well in the Federation Cup, from whatever I watched on the television, I found the two Calcutta teams capable of taking on others, including Bengaluru FC. Looking at the squads of the two teams, I don’t find many reasons to make a complaint. Their foreigners in the striking zone — Ranty Martins and Dudu Omagbemi — are seasoned campaigners and well versed with their job at the goalmouth. Mohun Bagan, too, have good foreign recruits like Sony Nordy, Katsumi Yusa and Pierre Boya, who are no less competent than players in any other teams.

It is the style of functioning of the team management that often makes the vital difference. I am in no mood to undermine any particular person or a group of individuals, but professional team management is the key behind the recent successes of Dempo and Bengaluru FC. I refuse to believe that Mohun Bagan and East Bengal footballers are any inferior to their counterparts in Dempo or Bengaluru. All they need is the right kind of motivation from the club management.

Better team management and the ability to constantly focus on the game were the biggest weapons of the Calcutta teams in the past. Now, the situation has changed. Lack of playing ability was the not main reason behind East Bengal’s 3-4 defeat against Sporting Clube de Goa in the Federation Cup. I could spot the lack of motivation among the boys. It is the job of the team management to bring them together.

I don’t want to comment on East Bengal’s decision to bar the media from the practice sessions. At the same time, I find the decision to impose fine on players for losing a bit farfetched. For too long, the I League has been a Goa-Bengal rivalry with the former having the last laugh on most occasions. It is good to find the two clubs from the North East qualifying for the meet giving a new twist to the I-League. Given the way Lajong and Royal Wahingdoh played in the Federation Cup, I really don't see them becoming serious challengers for the title.

If the performance in the Federation Cup is any indication, then defending champions Bengaluru FC will start as favourites in the I-League. But I have become a fan of Ashley Westwood for his handling of players, especially Indian captain Sunil Chetri. I have never seen Chetri so fit and focussed before. Credit must go to the coach for getting the best out of his Indian footballers.

EAST BENGAL

For the last four seasons, East Bengal have truly been one of the most consistent amongst all teams. But no matter how well they fared, the I-League has continued to elude them.

Not that they didn’t try hard to win the coveted title, but somehow, East Bengal couldn’t rise above the second position. Nonetheless, they get another chance this time around to right the wrongs and lift the trophy.

On paper, East Bengal are by far one of the strongest sides. They also began the season in fine fashion, romping their way to a fifth straight CFL triumph. But since then, things seem to be going awfully wrong for them.

East Bengal’s problems will be solved if they get off to a good start in the I-League. Ranty Martins might well be going through a patchy form lately, but considering his ability and class, he can win you a game by just getting his basics right. And then there’s Dudu Omagbemi whose deadly left-footer could be the deciding factor in matches. If the Ranty-Dudu combination is on song, the rivals will be having a very tough time to keep East Bengal at bay, forget beating them.

Captain: Harmanjyot Singh Khabra

Coach: Armando Colaco

2013-14: Runners-up

MOHUN BAGAN

It’s close to five years since Mohun Bagan have won a trophy. The current scenario is not at all an encouraging one, as it could well be five years and counting for the green and maroons…

Half the season is already over, but Bagan’s prolonged disappointment isn’t. After below-par shows in CFL and the Federation Cup, Bagan have only the I-League at their disposal to erase the sorrows. With financial crisis compounding to their problems, will Bagan be able to pull off a heist and break their title drought?

Motivation will certainly be a factor for the team as the Sony Nordys and Pierre Boyas haven’t had their dues cleared for the last three months. So, will they be able to motivate themselves for the cause of the team? That’s a big question…

But if they do, then things can certainly fall into place for Bagan. For, they did put in impressive performances at certain periods in both King’s Cup (in Bhutan) and the Federation Cup. Sony and Boya are quite capable of forming a good combination because if it clicks, it could be a lethal one.

Captain: Shilton Paul

Coach: Sanjoy Sen

2013-14: Eighth

stats the way

THE CHAMPIONS

1996-97: JCT; 1997-98: Mohun Bagan; 1998-99:

Salgaocar; 1999-00: Mohun Bagan; 2000-01: East Bengal; 2001-02: Mohun Bagan; 2002-03: East Bengal; 2003-04: East Bengal; 2004-05: Dempo; 2005-06: Mahindra United; 2006-07: Dempo; 2007-08: Dempo; 2008-09: Churchill; 2009-10: Dempo; 2010-11: Salgaocar; 2011-12: Dempo; 2012-13: Churchill; 2013-14: Bengaluru FC

NUMBER CRUNCHING

Most individual goals in a match: 7 by Ranty Martins, Dempo SC vs Air India in 2010-11.

Maximum No. of goals in one edition: 32 by Ranty Martins, Dempo SC in 2011-12.

Biggest winning margin: Dempo SC bt Air India 14-0 in 2010-11.

Most goals scored in a match: 14, Dempo SC (14) vs Air India (0), 2010-11.

Most number of goals scored by a team in one edition: 63 in 26 matches by Dempo SC, 2010-11.

Most goals scored in one edition: 531 goals in 182 matches, 2012-13.

Fastest goal: James Moga — 14 seconds (Pune FC vs United Sikkim, Gangtok, 2012-13)

Maximum hat-tricks: Okolie Odafa (13 times)

Most No. of matches won: East Bengal (193)

Most numbers of goals scored: Churchill (623)

East Bengal hold the record of remaining unbeaten in 22 consecutive matches. From their 18th match vs HAL in 2001-02 to their 17 match vs Tollygunge Agragami in 2002-03.

Mohun Bagan hold the record of winning maximum consecutive ties (10) in an edition (2008-09)

FOREIGN CONNECTION

Ranty Martins — 184 goals

Okolie Odafa — 165 goals

Yusif Yakubu — 147 goals

Jose Barreto — 101 goals

Edeh Chidi — 104 goals

THE DESI BOYS

Bhaichung Bhutia — 89 goals

Sunil Chetri — 79 goals

RC Prakash — 49 goals

compiled by HARIPRASAD CHATTOPADHYAY