Coaching is his passion

"The National Football League is a boon for Indian football. As the AFC has prescribed, it should be spread over a longer period to bring out the best in the participating teams."


SUBHAS BHOWMICK is the right paradigm for the word `gusto'. The man — both as a footballer and as a coach — strove to live life by the dictums he created and championed an attitude that always set him to attain the improbable. An Indian club winning an international club meet always remained a dream unfulfilled, ever since club football matured in the country. Bhowmick now has been showered with the credit of realising it, and the ASEAN Club Championship title (LG Cup) in the end proved his philosophy and his credentials as a top-level coach.

"The achievement definitely added to our confidence. I feel we stand a chance of making it to a decent level in the AFC Champions League," says East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick. — Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

What was previously dubbed as his "arrogance" has now become a virtue as Bhowmick always gave a piece of his mind to anyone who did not toe his line. He remained a maverick making coaching his passion — not a profession as he often worked without taking salary — while seeking a professional outlook from the club and the players. He is a thoroughly East Bengal man having gained the best both as a player and as coach during his association with the club. Hailing from North Bengal he came down to find a place in Kolkata and started his association with East Bengal in 1969. The next 10 years saw the best of his playing career as he kept shuttling between the two rivals — East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. His undaunted attitude and fiery temperament established him as a sort of a `rebel' who did not always follow the officials and this, perhaps, made him an "irregular" in the two clubs. Age has not been able to dent this attribute, as he still remains the renegade, always voicing against "unfairness".

As a player, he established himself as classy right winger with his speed and dribbling abilities and was a permanent fixture both with the clubs that he played and the national team. He represented the country in the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games, where his scoring abilities saw India reach the semifinals and win the bronze defeating Japan in the third-place play-off. He was again a key member of the team that won the Pesta Sukan Cup in Singapore in 1971 — the last title triumph for the national team before it won LG Cup last year.

He came into coaching seriously joining East Bengal in 1999 but could only continue for a short time. He returned when the same club faced a crisis in the 2001-2002 National Football League. He helped the team survive a possible relegation in the tournament and in the following season scripted a great revival as East Bengal put up a great performance winning all the five tournaments — including the NFL — it participated in. Having ensured East Bengal's supremacy in the country and the club's confidence in his abilities, Bhowmick turned his attention to international conquest and prescribed a shopping list naming the best available talents in the country. And the club condescended. This, apart from the three foreigners Brazilian Douglas Da Silva, Nigerian Mike Okoro and Ghanaian Suley Musah, made it the team to beat and many came to call it the `Real Madrid' of India.

Speaking to The Sportstar, Bhowmick preferred to be more pragmatic about the achievement and kept himself consciously away from the euphoria that is sweeping the country. "It (the LG Cup triumph) is nothing very great but a favourable beginning to hold on to. I would like to treat it as a prologue to greater achievements. Club football in the country is sinking in the vast sea of professional soccer and the ASEAN Club Championship triumph is the `straw' to keep ourselves afloat. The world is starting to believe in our abilities and we must make the most of that."

Bhowmick was forthright in suggesting, "We cannot measure the AFC Champions League in the light of the ASEAN Club Championship. The continental inter-club tournament will be played in a `home and away' format and the teams will be much better prepared by the time it starts and that will create the difference, making our task tougher."

The coach said that East Bengal lent enough money and thinking in preparing for the ASEAN meet and the team was lodged in a five-star hotel while it prepared under South African physical trainer Kevin Jackson — another first in Indian football — for over a month. "The results that followed are here for all to judge. BEC Tero Sasana (the final opponent) was tactically and physically more accomplished than us but we outdid them by our attitude though we too had a good level of fitness to realise that."

He said the achievement definitely added to "our confidence. I feel we stand a chance of making it to a decent level in the AFC Champions League. There are a few areas of improvement and we'll have to work hard on them. I want the team to attain a greater level of consistency and it is only then can we be able to repeat our success." He added, "I would prefer to play the AFC Champions League matches in Goa, as both the turf and climate of the place will favour us." It was quite a revelation considering the fact that the coach preferred better ground conditions rather than having home supporters.

Keeping his focus on international assignments, the coach said, "the team is preparing both for NFL and the AFC Champions League as the two will be overlapping. After the Federation Cup is over my suggestion is not to participate in any other tournament. This will help my players to rest and recuperate and this may mean at the expense of the likes of Durand and Rovers Cup and the local IFA Shield. We have to aim big and that entails certain sacrifice.

"We need six weeks rest to tune ourselves for the events of the magnitude of the NFL and Champions League. The players will only undertake physical fitness training and practice and should be barred from participating in any competitive meet that can risk injury or early burn-outs. As far as opting out of tournaments is concerned, I would say that we need to focus on the main objectives and should not go for narrow gains just for the sake of participation. If there is any opposition from any quarter about this, I am willing to face it. I want to take my boys far from the madding crowd to build them up mentally and then start the preparations afresh." He issued the notice saying thus.

Commenting on the state of club football he said, "another distressing trend is that only two States — Goa and Bengal — have come to dominate the sport. This can be gauged from the NFL, which has nine of the 12 teams hailing from these two States. The segmentation of the sport is very detrimental to development and it is high time the administrators redrew their plans about the promotion of the sport. I don't know why there is a delay in implementing the `wild-card system' in the NFL, which can have good teams from other States coming in each year.

He brought up the case of Kerala saying, "Indian football's saddest part is Kerala losing out in the lopsided race. The sport is threatened and the AIFF should come out to save its own existence. The AIFF is not planning to spread the game to all parts of the country. We do not have any dearth of talent. I should say the football administrators should take a page out of cricket. What impressed me really was the BCCI's endeavour to promote cricket in the North-East, for which it has launched a separate programme. Football already has its roots there and this should be nurtured in a proper manner."

He also criticised the concept of having tournaments such as the Federation Cup in regular venues. "Having the Federation Cup in Kolkata is a wrong decision. It would have been proper had the tournament been hosted by Bangalore or Hyderabad because these were the two centres which have produced good footballers in the past and now are in need of a revival."

Bhowmick, while hailing the NFL, was bitter about other tournaments. "The National Football League is a boon for Indian football. As the AFC has prescribed, it should be spread over a longer period to bring out the best in the participating teams. Rather than having a clogged calendar with tournaments repeating the teams all over the year, I think the other tournaments (apart from the Federation Cup) should be meant for smaller teams and should serve as meets to showcase new talents.

Bhowmick has high regards for the National coach, Stephen Constantine, which was reflected in his eulogies about the Englishman. "(Stephen) Constantine is very right in his approach about improving the overall aspect of the sport. He has brought in a new professional outlook making people aware that only a systematic planning backed by a scientific outlook can deliver the goods."

He said the LG Cup triumph is the highest point in his career and concluded thus: "My best moment, I believed, was receiving the Bangkok Asian Games bronze medal. That was till we arrived in Kolkata with the LG Cup. The perception changed after that, seeing the sea of people who had thronged in thousands to receive us. We should cash in on the situation without any delay. The ASEAN Club Championship triumph has given us the lead and we'll have to make the best of it till it remains fresh in the minds of the people. One success should follow another. Otherwise this will remain a single incident in the sport's history."