Ranty's goal-gluttony

Dempo Sc wins it again.-PICS.: SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

The goal-poacher, who continues to retain the surprise element inside the striking zone, got 32 out of the 59 goals that his team scored in the League. An I-League record, Ranty's unmitigated fest fetched him his third golden boot (highest scorer) and his team the title, writes Amitabha Das Sharma.

Dempo Sports Club clearly stands apart in the general show of mediocrity that has come to unite Indian football. The club from Goa has emerged as the masthead of excellence by perfecting the art of wining the I-League — the premier club contest in the country — with uncanny regularity. It did not come as a surprise when Dempo picked up its fifth National Football League/I-League crown in eight seasons, recently.

Dempo's success corresponds to the philosophy of integration — that of persisting with a nucleus of talented players — brought about by its longstanding coach Armando Colaco. In a general atmosphere of restlessness where most of the other clubs tend to chop and change their team compositions at the slightest hint of failure, Colaco has given Dempo an unmatched solidity of purpose.

“I want my players to enjoy the game without the fear of failure. When the team loses a match, we don't go down but encourage the players to do better in the next outing,” Colaco's says. His words have had its desired effects on the team as it won 18 of its 26 matches this season, a success record way ahead of the others sides in the 14-team format. Former champion East Bengal, which came second, could win only 15 matches.

One name that towers above all in the performance chart of the team's roster is that of Ranty Martins Soleye. The Nigerian striker has remained synonymous with Dempo's success ever since he joined it eight years back (in 2004). The goal-poacher, who continues to retain the surprise element inside the striking zone with his flair and precision, got 32 out of the 59 goals that his team scored in the League. An I-League record, Ranty's unmitigated goal gluttony fetched him his third golden boot (highest scorer).

Ranty has scored the highest number of (145) goals in the NFL/I-League history, which is a firm reminder of his enduring class and finesse inside the striking zone. Okolie Odafa, who switched over to Mohun Bagan after spending seven years with Churchill Brothers, continues to be the possessor of the most number of golden boots (4).

“This was the most difficult league as we lost our way in the middle but did not lose our focus and bounced back to win the title, thanks to the guidance we received from our coach (Colaco),” Ranty said. Dempo won its first seven matches — in the 26 round double tier format — scoring 23 goals and conceding just two. It lost four matches in the next six rounds but rebounded back in the decisive phase to become the runaway winner.

While Ranti, assisted by Koko Sakibo in the attacking third, was the driving force behind Dempo's goal-glut, but what lent balance to the team's campaign was an equally solid defence marshalled by the seasoned Mahesh Gawli. Having been the mainstay of the national team's defence for a long time, Gawli is one of the many names fuelling Dempo's success all along with a rare show of consistency.

Gawli got a good partner in young Cressan Antao and the two presented the most effective bulwark in Dempo's defensive organisation. This could be assessed from the fact that Dempo conceded 21 goals, which is the second lowest by any team in the competition. Moreover, Dempo had the best goal difference (goal scored 59 – goals conceded 21) of +38 — an unmatched record by all accounts — giving the team an overwhelming edge.

While Dempo's success kept Ranty in the forefront of stardom, Odafa tugged Mohun Bagan out of duress with a solo effort. Odafa, with an overall tally of 140 goals, scored 26 of Mohun Bagan's 50 goals to see the team finish fourth in the final standings. Both Odafa and Mohun Bagan secured the second highest tally in the individual and team scoring accounts. Though Mohun Bagan's attack flourished under Odafa, its defence floundered under pressure taking the team out of the title race.

East Bengal, which is the last team from Kolkata to have won the title in 2004, followed the Dempo philosophy in preserving the bulk of the side under its English coach Trevor James Morgan, from the previous season. But it could not outshine the Goa giant as its offensive formation lacked the desired balance. Australian Tolgay Ozbey, the third highest scorer with 18 goals, felt the absence of a capable partner upfront and East Bengal suffered from it.

Nigerian Uga Okpara for East Bengal and Brazilian Luciano Sabrosa were the two outstanding defenders of the season. Karim Bencherifa-coached Salgaocar conceded just 19 goals, while East Bengal let 22 slip in. But unlike the champion, both East Bengal and Salgaocar struggled in the creative zone and found success drying out in the crucial phase.

* * * Top scorers (Indian players) Goals 9 C. S. Sabeeth (Pailan Arrows) C. K. Vineeth (Chirag United Kerala) 7 Manandeep Singh (Air India) Mandesh Gadkari (Air India) * * * Top scorers (foreign players) Goals Country 32 Ranty Martins (Dempo) Nigeria 26 Odafa Okolie (Mohun Bagan) Nigeria 18 Tolgay Ozbey (East Bengal) Australia 15 James Moga (Sporting Clube de Goa) Sudan BARRETO: GOODBYE BAGAN

For a Brazilian footballer to make India his home requires a special aptitude. Jose Ramirez Barreto developed this knack with his successful association with one club — Mohun Bagan — fetching it two National Football League (earlier name of I-League) titles apart from a host of other national trophies. Barreto, who became synonymous with Mohun Bagan, played his last match for the team in the concluding round of the I-League against Pune FC on May 6, thereby ending one of the most illustrious associations in the history of Indian football. The club in turn accorded him a warm and colourful farewell prior to match.

Arguably the longest serving foreign footballer in India, the Brazilian striker's pre-eminence stems from the unflinching faith Mohun Bagan put in his abilities ever since he arrived in December 1999. Unlike any other contemporary players, Barreto spent 11 seasons, with only one interruption in 2005-06 when he turned out for the now disbanded Mahindra United, with Mohun Bagan. Dovetailing his spectacular ball-playing skills with a very affable temperament on and off the field, the Brazilian assumed a cult status among his legion of fans. He scored a total of 238 goals (224 for Bagan) out of which 101 were scored in the NFL/I-League. He also won the golden boot award while turning out for Mohun Bagan in the 2000-01 NFL and with three NFL titles (two for Bagan, one for MU) and over all 21 crowns in his kitty, Barreto remains one of the most successful players in recent times. “I am always available for Mohun Bagan,” an emotional Barreto pledged himself to his favourite club even after severing his professional relationship with it.

— Amiatbha Das Sharma