Harmanjot Khabra: Controlling emotions is of utmost importance in Kolkata Derby

Subrata Paul and Harmanjot Khabra, who were both part of the Kolkata Derby, spoke about the excitement of playing in the high-octane clash.

Subrata Paul spoke about the experience of playing in the Kolkata Derby which is always full of adrenaline.   -  The Hindu

The Salt Lake stadium will be filled to full capacity and pride will be at stake when Mohun Bagan takes on arch-rival East Bengal on Sunday.

Emotions will run high as the two Kolkata heavyweights will lock horns in what will be the penultimate Kolkata Derby after Mohun Bagan joined hands with ATK to play in the cash-rich Indian Super League (ISL) next season.

The Mariners are favourites in the all-important derby owing to their top position in the I-League points table. East Bengal, on the other hand, seems to be rather struggling after two consecutive defeats -- at the hands of Churchill Brothers and Gokulam Kerala.

However, former players of the Kolkata outfits will advise you to not make presumptions. “You cannot predict the winner in a Kolkata Derby. The result depends on how you perform in the 90 minutes. The form of the teams before the derby game doesn’t count,” says Subrata Paul, who played for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

The 33-year-old goalkeeper, who enjoyed his time at both the Kolkata giants, adds he treated the Kolkata Derby “as a challenge like any other match”.

“The experience of playing in the Kolkata Derby differs from player to player. I’d never felt any pressure, I enjoyed my time. Once in a derby, there were over one lakh people in the stadium and it was so loud that I couldn’t hear my centre-back! But I really enjoyed playing in that atmosphere,” recalls the Arjuna awardee. “If you are a footballer in India, you always want to be part of a Kolkata Derby. This is a dream for all Indian footballer.”

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As for Harmanjot Khabra, who spent seven years at East Bengal, keeping your emotions in check was of utmost importance in the high-octane Kolkata Derby.

“The result in the derby matters a lot but the control of emotions is the biggest thing in the Kolkata Derby,” he explains. “In the derby, every player starts playing on the edge. It becomes a one-on-one battle. Thus, emotionally you have to make wise decisions. You cannot tackle a player in the 18-yard-box just because it’s a battle of you against him. You need to be in control of your emotions in such situations.”

Khabra, who is currently plying his trade at Bengaluru FC, describes how the derby atmosphere can be intimidating, especially for first-timers. “If you are new to the Kolkata Derby, it is pressurising. However, once you have won one derby or have played about two-three derby games, you start enjoying it. Even in the Calcutta Football League, there is so much support that the fans start shouting if you are losing against a small team. The reception is similar in the derby.”

Talking about the mindset going into the derby, Khabra explains, “Psychologically, the preparation for the derby begins way before the matchday. You start noticing the opponent team’s body language ahead of the game and also during the warm-ups. In fact, as soon as you enter the field through the tunnel the night before matchday, the build-up starts.”

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