Rival coaches doffed their hats to Mohun Bagan after the All India Football Federation (AIFF)’s league committee on Saturday decided that the green and maroon brigade would be officially declared champions.
The committee met via a video conference and made the recommendation to the AIFF’s executive committee not to resume the I-League in view of the lockdown.
Now, it’s a matter of formality for the executive committee to endorse recommendations of the league committee.
Bagan, with an insurmountable 39 points from 16 matches, had already won the title with four games to spare when they defeated Aizawl FC 1-0 at Kalyani on March 10. “They are the deserving winners. They were organised at the back and I think that made the difference. They conceded just 13 goals.
“They were a very difficult team to beat. Also, the fact that other teams were very inconsistent helped Bagan,” Real Kashmir FC coach David Robertson told The Telegraph from Srinagar.
Asked to single out one player, the Scotsman said: “Football is a team game, but Fran Gonzalez stood out.”
Bagan recorded a memorable 2-0 victory at Real Kashmir FC in the first week of January and according to coach Kibu Vicuna, that was the turning point. “You could say that was the turning point, but we were consistent throughout. I will remember this season forever.”
Aizawl FC coach Stanly Rozario, though, picked Bagan’s 4-0 win against TRAU FC on December 11 as the most important match. “They were down and almost out after the home drubbing at the hands of Churchill Brothers. That victory gave them a lot of confidence,” he said.
Stanly also agreed that the other teams did not push Bagan. “Take for example Gokulam Kerala FC. They were one of the favourites but kept losing points. Same with Churchill Brothers.
“Bagan, on the other hand, were unbeaten for 14 matches. That’s unbelievable,” he said.
I-League’s youngest manager, Punjab FC’s Yan Law, felt everything fell in place for Bagan. “Their recruitments were A-class and they had this never-say-die attitude. Against us in Ludhiana, despite trailing, they did not lose heart and got an equaliser in the 87th minute,” Yan, 26, said.
Yan pointed out that while Bagan’s Spanish brigade, led by Joseba Beitia, caught the eye, their Indian players like Nongdamba Naorem, Sheikh Sahil, Asutosh Mehta and VP Suhair also played their part.
“Credit goes to everybody. It would remain a memorable season for me,” Beitia said.
Meanwhile, while all the clubs agreed Bagan should get the Rs 1-crore prize money, East Bengal thought otherwise. “They wanted the entire prize money to be divided among the 11 teams. It defied logic,” one club owner said.
Additional reporting by Arindam Bandyopadhyay