ISL exodus forces Kolkata giants to adopt home-grown youngsters

The Kolkata giants look for talents from the hinterland to counter a crippled domestic transfer market.

Pintu Mahata and Arijit Bagui Mohun Bagan

Pintu Mahata (27) and Arijit Bagui (14) are the latest Bengal-based players to play for the Mohun Bagan.   -  Twitter @Mohun_Bagan

The Kolkata Derby continues to occupy its position at the top of the football engagements in the country for its ability to impress with something new in each edition. Despite the efforts to herald the Indian Super League as the premier tournament in the country, the derby still retains its stature as the most followed football event.

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Mohun Bagan (established in 1889) and its younger rival East Bengal (1920) have already completed 93 years of this contest making the the derby the oldest in the continent. The emergence of ISL as the second ‘League’ of the country does have its impact, drawing away most of the established Indian talents to the different corporate-driven franchises with overflowing riches. This creates a vacuum in the domestic market leaving the fan-based clubs like Bagan and East Bengal, which has lesser budgets, to look for alternative measures.

The two Kolkata giants over the past nine decades drew the best of the names from the country giving the derby an unmatched pre-eminence. The ISL seems to be changing this by syphoning off the stars by offering bigger buyouts. The Kolkata giants, which arguably runs on a quarter of the budget commanded by an ISL outfit, seems to have accepted the challenge rather well. The latest edition of the derby, which saw the sides locked 2-2 in an absorbing contest, gave a glimpse of this survival strategy.

With the competitive transfer market becoming difficult for its means, Bagan is increasingly turning to the hinterlands in search of new talents. Pintu Mahata, who gave the Greens and Maroons the lead with a spectacular effort, is the product of its own youth development initiative. Mahata hails from a once Maoist-affected village in Medinipur West district and joined the club as a 14-year-old.

Mahata reached Bagan’s academy before graduating to the senior side last season. Impressed by his diligence, Shankarlal Chakraborthy decided to field Mahata in the derby and the player proved his merit by slotting home the very first opportunity that came his way. The goal gave instant stardom to the 21-year-old, who will now become a key name in Bagan's midfield for the new I-League season.

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Arijit Bagui was the other home-bred talent that hogged the limelight with two assists and played the role of a right-back to perfection. He landed a barrage of crosses inside the opposition box to keep Bagan on the offensive. Hailing from Dankuni (in Hooghly district) on the outskirts of Kolkata, the Bagan scouts picked him from the Calcutta Football League side Kalighat MS.

In recent years, local players like Souvik Chakrabarty, Pritam Kotal and Pranoy Halder, rose up the ranks with Bagan before leaving their mark in the ISL. It is, now, the turn of the new batch of Bengal players to do the same.