Accolades pour in

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

THE following are the reactions of former Indian players on East Bengal's ASEAN Club meet triumph.

SAILEN MANNA: Octogenarian Manna, a legendary footballer, who represented the country in the 1948 London Olympics and played club football with the century-old club Mohun Bagan, has seen the best and worst of Indian football from close both as a player and an administrator. He feels that East Bengal's achievement is a superlative feat and will do a great deal in bringing up the country's club football. "East Bengal's achievement will surely inspire other clubs to emulate it. With the national team winning international laurels before, the club football too made its mark in the outside world. This is quite encouraging. And we will have to sustain it in the coming days."

Manna said that there has been a sea of change in the sport compared to what he had seen as a player. The clubs and the national federation have become quite professional in their approach to the sport. They are planning each season well and spending both money and their thoughts on giving scientific training, employing professionals who are good in the job. "What impressed me most was the thorough preparation East Bengal put up before going to the tournament. They deserved the title and they got it.

SANTO MITRA: Mitra was the project director of the Indian national team, which lifted the LG Cup in Vietnam last year. He played club football with East Bengal and captained it in 1970. Mitra feels that East Bengal's success is the result of the new wave of professional approach influencing Indian football. He commended the All India Football Federation and its secretary, Alberto Colaco, for working tirelessly for the uplift of the sport. The recruitment of the English coach Stephen Constantine was the most significant factor, he felt. He said East Bengal's feat has a direct correlative with the national team's triumph in Vietnam. "By winning the trophy in the Ho Chi Minh City, we were able to instil the confidence in our players and administrators alike that we have the requisite skill and the ability to reach a very high level in football. And what has been happening to the sport since then is very much the reason of the professional approach brought over by Constantine.

The insistence on proper fitness training and regimen of the players coupled with scientific coaching methods can produce incredible results. Our national team proved it by winning the LG Cup and so has East Bengal. Both the East Bengal coach (Subhas Bhowmick) and the club officials should be given the credit for taking the pain to arrange the finances in giving the team the best facilities and an international physical trainer (South African Kevin Jackson) in getting the perfect tune-up to go for the title.

East Bengal's attitude was quite striking as the team was undaunted and it had a tremendous desire to excel. What East Bengal achieved is a landmark and we will have to better this to enhance our status in international football in the coming years.

SUROJIT SENGUPTA: One of the finest forwards the game has seen, Surojit Sengupta saw the best of his career coming up with East Bengal, for which he had many memorable outings. He also represented the country in the Asian Games and played alongside the present East Bengal Subhas Bhowmick in the 1974 Tehran Asian Games.

Sengupta is happy about his former team's achievement but is apprehensive lest this triumph remains a secluded happening. "Indian football has touched many highs.

The gold in the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games should have inspired the country to do better, but the standard took a nosedive. We have repeatedly earned success in the Asian level and each time they have remained isolated chapters in the long history of the game. East Bengal has also achieved a unique feat as a club but the actual test begins now. Will it be able to sustain the consistency in the coming international assignments? That's the question that keeps on ringing. Lack of consistency is the bane of Indian football.

History has shown that instead of working hard and planning properly, we tend to drown ourselves in complacency once we achieve something.

The success of East Bengal will only fructify if this achievement brings more such international titles in club football. There cannot be an immediate reaction to this and we can call it a turning point or a watershed in Indian football only after, may be, 10 years seeing the amount of progress this happening is going to inspire. All those who are involved with the sport — the national and local administrators, the club officials and the players — will have to work hard and plan scientifically to build the future of Indian football on this achievement."