Lost in a dark abyss

Skipper Odafa Okolie needs to fire upfront to get Mohun Bagan out of its present rut.-

The glory of Mohun Bagan’s resplendent past came against the gloom of its current disenchantment, arising out of a success drought hitherto unseen. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

Just as the oldest football club of Asia — Mohun Bagan — dusted out the last confetti of the centenary celebrations of its momentous IFA Shield victory over the Englishmen in 1911, it bumped against a wall of despondency.

The glory of its resplendent past came against the gloom of its current disenchantment, arising out of a success drought hitherto unseen.

The last season (2011-2012) was the second successive season of a trophy-less reign that gave rise to various protests against the club’s administrators. And as the club’s famed football team trundled on and faltered at the start of the current season, losing out in the preliminaries of the Federation Cup — a tournament which it has won a record 13 times — the protests regained currency.

As its team sunk to the depths of disappointment, the club kept switching coaches in a retrograde approach that belied the basic tenets of modern football. And in an apparent bid to hide their shortcomings Mohun Bagan officials forced the exit of Santosh Kashyap, who became the latest victim in a sequel of unexplained sackings. What happened next brought the inherent dichotomy in the club’s administrative philosophy to a full circle.

The club has now reappointed Moroccan Karim Bencherifa, the coach it had seen off more than two seasons ago, apparently to invoke the success that last came under him. “Same set of administrators, who have continued for decades under the patronage of powerful politicians, hardly come out of the box to espouse new ideas and concepts. They go by the words of a coterie of non-technical persons who have very little knowledge about the modern developments in football,” says a distraught Subrata Bhattacharya, a former India captain and later a coach who brought Mohun Bagan two National Football League (now I-League) titles.

“We look at three attributes in appointing a coach. He should enjoy the faith of the players, should be friendly to both the club supporters and the media. Once we find him falling deficient in one of these parameters, we are forced to replace him. This is a community-based club and we have to win trophies to keep the supporters happy,” says Anjan Mitra, who has been the club’s secretary for the past 17 years. “Lot of injuries and improper pre-season training are proving detrimental and the team is not performing well,” says Mitra indirectly putting the blame on Kashyap, who was in charge of the team’s pre-season development.

Karim Bencherifa's last reign as the Bagan coach, 33 months back, was a successful one. And he hopes to bring the smiles back for the supporters.-S. PATRONOBISH

“In the 123-year-old history of the club, it has seen most of its success by persisting with a single coach,” says football statistician, Hari Prasad Chattopadhyay, who points out to the reign of the legendary P. K. Banerjee from 1976 to ‘79. Karim, who was apparently forced to make a “golden handshake” on February 4, 2010, was the last coach to have been retained for over a year. “In fact Karim stayed for 18 months and helped the team to the Fed Cup (2008) and in the next season saw Mohun Bagan to 10 successive wins in the I-League, which still remains a record. It is quite intriguing why the club asked him to go at a time when the team had won six consecutive matches of the Calcutta Football League (of 2009). The club won the CFL title subsequently but changed two more coaches (Satyajit Chatterjee and Biswajit Bhattacharya) to obtain the title,” says Chattopadhyay highlighting the inexplicable behaviour of the club management.

Previously there had been lean seasons — like in 1973 and 1995 in the post-independence era — when the team went without trophies. But the unmitigated parchedness (lasting almost 30 months) that the club is currently experiencing is its longest stretch of insolvency. Between the two tenures of Karim, which will be approximately 33 months, Mohun Bagan juggled with nine coaches — a restiveness that will put even the most amateur club anywhere in the world to shame.

On the other hand, Mohun Bagan’s archrival East Bengal sought the opposite route and persisted with Englishman Trevor James Morgan and earned a fair bit of success in the last three seasons. The failure of the coaches is triggered by the vacuity of proper administrative knowledge of the officials, feel the former players. “This crisis speaks of the lack of vision in the club administration,” says Subrata. Incidentally, he was the last coach to have enjoyed a long tenure when he coached Mohun Bagan for 42 months between November 1999 and April 2003, fetching it two National Football League crowns and a host of other titles. “Success and failure are two sides of a coin and every club faces it. But for Mohun Bagan it is improper planning and the lack of foresightedness of the club administrators that has brought about this situation,” adds Subrata, who spent his whole playing career with Mohun Bagan.

“I find it difficult to understand this restlessness regarding the coaches. In modern football it is essential to give a coach the time to build his team with which he can find success,” says the legendary forward Subhimal (Chuni) Goswami, one of the most celebrated Mohun Bagan players, who also never changed sides. “Another aspect that makes me wonder is the lack of conviviality between the administrators and former players.”

Former players like Subrata, Goswami and Chatterjee have been recalled by the club on previous occasions for troubleshooting but little has been done to retain them as advisors on a long-term basis. “Former players all over the world are involved in various developmental activities. But it is absent here,” says Chuni.

“Another aspect is the dearth of youth development. Mohun Bagan Academy is hardly contributing with quality players to the team while the officials bank on a closed coterie of advisors, without technical knowledge, in selecting the team every season,” says Subrata. “Moreover the club officials make all the wrong decisions and continue in their post with impunity for ages, thanks to the immunity they gain from political patronage. We talk about professionalism but there is hardly any,” he says.

As Bencherifa takes over the reins of Mohun Bagan from former international Mridul Banerjee, who looked after the team in the interim period after Kashyap’s departure, he will inherit the famished aspirations of the millions of its supporters and also the gargantuan demands of its officials. Though a two-year contract will be in force for the Moroccan coach it remains to be seen whether the proven impatience of the management does not override the real content of the agreement.