Winds of change in the Mecca of indian football

Sanjoy Sen’s I-League title triumph with Mohun Bagan has raised expectations in Kolkata.-PICS: SANJOY GHOSH

The three traditional Kolkata powerhouses — Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting — are not ready to cede ground to the corporate entities and are trying to galvanise their old support base. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

The upcoming football season in Kolkata promises to be different, perhaps marking a new dawn. The three Kolkata giants — Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting — will have local boys at the helm, marshalling the fortunes of the teams, after a gap of many years. The power-hungry office-bearers of the city clubs have finally done away with their penchant for picking foreign managers, which has brought them scant success, and have handed the top job to three former players, Sanjoy Sen, Biswajit Bhattacharya and Mridul Banerjee.

The three clubs have large community-based support in the country and even the newly created franchisee clubs of the Indian Super League cannot match their fan base, despite all the marketing blitzkrieg and the presence of Bollywood and cricket celebrities.

The first edition of the ISL, however, saw huge crowd turnouts across the country, a phenomenon which the I-League has failed to achieve over the years. Incidentally, Atletico de Kolkata — co-owned by former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly — won the inaugural edition, prompting the Bengal Chief Minister to organise a grand victory celebration in the city. The three traditional powerhouses, though, are not ready to cede ground to the corporate entities and are trying to galvanise their old support base.

Sen’s success with a young Mohun Bagan team perhaps led East Bengal to appoint Bhattacharya, a former India international as coach. Banerjee has been handed the task of guiding Mohammedan Sporting back to the top echelon of Indian football.

All three have procured the requisite AFC ‘A’ licence, making it easier for the clubs, which are mandated to have managers with proper licences to fulfil Asian Football Confederation’s stringent club licensing criteria. It will take a Herculean effort from the triumvirate to bring continued success to the city, which has again re-established itself as the bastion of club football in the country.

“Maintaining consistency is much difficult than winning a trophy,” Sen, who inspired Mohun Bagan to the NFL/I-League crown after 13 years, rightly says. East Bengal was the last Kolkata side to win the national title in 2004. Sen blames the virtual nonexistence of grassroots development as the chief ailment of Bengal football.

“What were the Kolkata clubs, who together have the highest collection of trophies in the country, doing for so long? The club officials should be accountable and look into this with utmost importance. Proper youth development programme should have started a long time back,” Sen says. “The clubs should have a proper youth development system in place. The current system is farcical and is hurriedly assembled just to pass the AFC licensing criteria.”

Newly appointed East Bengal coach Biswajit Bhattacharya with South Korean Do Dong Hyun during a training session at the club ground in Kolkata.-

Sen, a big fan of Arsenal and its manager Arsene Wenger, who has helped groom a high number of players to international success, minces no words in his criticism of the current club managements. “Some people have stayed in power for almost 30 years and have done nothing proper. They should immediately do something or you (media) should use the power of your words and evict them,” Sen says.

Bhattacharya, who previously had a temporary coaching role with Mohun Bagan, will be in charge of archrival East Bengal this term and feels the same. “A lot of time has been wasted. India was one of the top footballing nations in Asia, if not the world, in the 60s. Proper grooming of players should have started then,” he says. “I went to Germany for a coaching course in 1998. They had coaching institutions which were set up 70 years back. That shows their commitment towards grassroots development. The results are for everyone to see.”

Bhattacharya is of the opinion that Indian national coach Stephen Constantine should regularly interact with the club managers to chalk out a uniform style of play and training method across the country.

Banerjee, who had shepherded the Bengal under-21 team to the national title in 2001, also blames the club officials for failing on their duty to spot and nurture talent, despite the continued popularity of the sport in the state.

The trio, emerging from the shadows of high-profile foreign gaffers — under whom they have often served as assistant managers — knows the enormity of the task ahead. Apart from winning the coveted trophies, their biggest challenge will be to finally put a proper development structure in place.