Former India women’s international Sujata Kar recently coached Emami East Bengal women’s team to the Kanyashree Cup (traditionally known as the Calcutta Women’s Football League) title, beating Sreebhumi FC in the final. This win paved the way for East Bengal to qualify for the Indian Women’s League (IWL) for the first time.
Kar, the brains behind East Bengal’s historic campaign, says not allowing her players to get complacent was the biggest reason behind the title-winning run. Not harping on the past, she says, “ aashol challenge ta ekhoni shuru hobe” (the real challenge begins now).
“I had 30-35 players in my squad. I knew that if I could have 2-3 good players in every position, that would keep my girls hungry to prove themselves. I used to be fluid with my team selection, and no one knew who was in and out. No one could take their starting place for granted. In fact, when the team captain Mina Khatun’s performance was not up to the mark, I did not hesitate to drop her too,” Kar recalls.
Kar believes holding a residential camp for training sessions was one of her best decisions.
“All the girls stayed in the same place. This allowed them to develop a bond that stretched beyond the football pitch. Everyone was disciplined in the same way. It was a big reason why my team became the champion. So, step by step, we moved forward and are here now, “ adds Kar.
Scouting talents, early-day challenges and creating history
Kar travelled to the remotest corners of West Bengal, villages in Jhargram, Purulia, and Paschim Midnapur, to unearth hidden talents that shined bright for East Bengal in the Kanyashree Cup. While enjoying a rich legacy in Indian men’s football, East Bengal’s foray into women’s football has always been sporadic, without significant achievements.
The head coach says she made it clear in her first meeting with the East Bengal upper management that she needs time and trust to make things work.
The patient approach bore fruits in the long run. Kar unearthed talents like Mousumi Murmu, Kabita Saren, Deblina Bhattacharjee, Gita Das and Sulanjana Raul, who scored the only goal in the Kanyashree Cup final and was adjudged as the ‘Player of the Match’ in the summit clash.
From clinching a challenging 3-0 semifinal win against Mohammedan SC to creating history with a record 35-0 win against Behala Aikya Sammilani, Kar managed to polish the raw talents and channelise their energy into a title-winning campaign.
Raul dedicated the cup win to Kar and says, “Ma’am [Kar] is always quick to rectify our mistakes. She and the entire support staff are a big reason we are here today.”
Murmu, who comes from Salboni, a village in the West Midnapur district, became the top scorer of the Kanyashree Cup with 12 goals. Her Kanyashree Cup exploits earned her a national team call-up for the AFC U20 Asian Cup qualifiers in Vietnam. She made her India debut in a 7-0 win against Singapore in the first round of qualifiers on Tuesday, March 7.
However, the win is just the tip of the iceberg. Kar says that winning the trust of parents and convincing them to let their daughters play football was a long process.
“There have been times where I have kept players in my own house because their parents were hesitant in sending their daughters alone, far from home. Over time, I was able to win their trust. “Now, I have parents coming to me, asking if I could give their daughter a chance. That is always nice to see.”
“This Kanyashree Cup win has given these girls a platform and thrown the limelight on women’s football in a positive way. Now, everyone is eager to know what is happening with women’s football in the state. This interest was not there before.”
IWL and the future
For Kar, the celebrations are over. Now, her sole objective is to make her team shine in the Indian Women’s League, which would start in April.
“We are already behind schedule, and I have told the club authorities that I want to start the training sessions as soon as possible. Another residential camp would have been ideal, but it is too late for that now.”
Kar says it would be difficult to find good players from other teams now. She also has the provision of signing two international players. However, her main priority is uplifting women’s football in West Bengal.
“Right now, I am training with the Bengal women’s squad. If things pan out favourably, I might take this team as the official East Bengal team for IWL, along with a few other players from my Kanyashree squad.”
“ Amader Banglar konai konai talent ache. Shei meye der khuje ber kore national platform dewatai amar lokkho. (There are talented players in every corner of Bengal. Finding them and giving the girls the necessary platform to shine on the national stage is my main intention),” she says.
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