Scene 1: Mohun Bagan is facing a determined Air India team and leading 2-1 at home. The Mariners havenai??i??t won in the previous two rounds and desperately need all three points. With seven minutes left on the clock, the striker receives a pass on edge of Air India box ai??i?? the entire AI defensive line is surrounding him. He somehow dribbles past the four defenders and slides the ball into the goal in Maradona-esque style to win the game for Mohun Bagan.

Scene 2: Mohun Bagan is trailing 2-0 in the second half against the team which has not won a single game – HAL SC. The team badly needs some spark, a moment of individual brilliance from somewhere. On the hour mark, the striker scores Baganai??i??s first goal ai??i?? after a cross from Snehashis Chakravarty. The same pair combine to make it 2-2 four minutes later. Mohun Bagan is desperate for more goals but struggle to break HALai??i??s 10-man defence. Finally, the striker sets up Jewel Raja for a coveted third goal two minutes before time.

Scene 3: The match is into second half injury time but the Green and Maroons are down 0-1 against BNR in Kolkata League. This is not a BNR side of 60s but minnows in the truest sense of the term. The fans are getting edgy with every passing minute. 92nd minute arrives. Ashim Biswas passes towards the striker who flicks the ball into the net with a mundane ease. 94th minute arrives. The striker gets possession and starts an angular run from the midfield ai??i?? he unleashes a powerful shot from edge of the box. Second goal. Three points.

Do these split scenes really depict a picture of a striker ai???off formai??? and partly responsible for Mohun Baganai??i??s ordinary performances? Hardly. Odafa Okalie is so far away from the concept of ai???off formai??? that youai??i??d need a Hubble telescope to see it.

Odafaai??i??s transfer to Mohun Bagan this season was easily one of the biggest transfer deals in Indian football in recent times. In 1977, Mohun Bagan made Shyam Thapa the most expensive player in India by signing him for Rs. 50,000, a record sum then. Signing of Odafa can be easily clubbed in the same category in terms of economic value.

Bagan bought the man on the right, not the left!

The common problem with any big money transfer is it puts monumental and, most often unrealistic, burden of expectations on the player. The fact that Asiaai??i??s oldest club forked out 2 crore for Odafa has led some people to believe that he is Superman! His job is to score goals but some sections of fans and media expect him to perform ten tasks of Hercules on his own. This is led to accusations of Odafa being unfit and more damningly, out of form!

This is not an occurrence in Indian football alone as there are examples in international football. Two recent instances are Dimitar Berbatov in Manchester United and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Barcelona, players who suffered from unnecessary criticism just because they were bought for a hefty amount.

Performance So Far

 

Since joining Mohun Bagan, Odafa has scored goals in every tournament he has participated in. He scored in the Federation Cup, despite never being fully fit during the tournament. He hasnai??i??t been used regularly in Kolkata Football League but has already rescued Mohun Bagan against BNR by scoring a brilliant brace.

In the I-League, the tournament where he has always thrived, Odafa has been nothing short of brilliant. He opened the league campaign with a clinical hattrick as Mohun Bagan thumped Arrows 3-1. He followed it up by scoring the opening goal against Chirag United. After missing out a few matches due to injury, Odafa came back into the starting XI against East Bengal. In his very first Kolkata Derby, the Nigerian grabbed the winning goal for the Mariners, ending a year-long streak of derby losses. Odafa scored the goal from a penalty kick but it is never easy to take a spot kick in a Kolkata derby in front of almost 100,000 screaming fans.

The Nigerian has continued his strong form in I-League till now, scoring 11 goals in total. He is the second highest scorer at this point of time, after Ranty Martins who has scored 14 goals. 11 goals in 10 matches is phenomenal by any standards but Odafaai??i??s form is accentuated by the fact that he has seldom been completely fit and unlike Ranty, he does not get enough support from rest of the team.

Suffering from lack of good passers and support strikers

 

Like last few seasons, Mohun Baganai??i??s team this season lacks balance. Along with defensive frailty the midfield lacks a good passer or playmaker. J Murali, a player who came from HAL to do this duty has been completely off form while N Pradeep has focused more on defensive duties. Lack of form, along with an almost epidemic injury crisis, has left Subrata Bhattacharya with no option but to play Jose Barreto as a midfielder.

Lack of a passer in midfield has resulted in Odafa having to track back deeper than he usually does in order to retrieve the ball. Mohun Bagan midfielders lack vision to play through balls which means Odafa has to receive the ball with his back turned to the goal most of the times. This has further dented his goal scoring prowess. Till now, most of Odafa’s goals have come because of his individual efforts, rather than killer passes from other players.

Another huge problem for Odafa has been lack of a supporting striker. Till now he has yet to form a proper partnership with any striker in the current Green and Maroon set-up. Sunil Chhetri has missed out due to injuries and national duty. Jose Barreto has also never been fit for a more than 2-3 matches at a stretch. Ashim Biswas, despite being talented has never been consistent enough to play in first XI. Lack of alternatives has also seen Biswas often being deployed on the wings.

A brilliant player in an ordinary team

 

Under such circumstances, it is almost a miracle that Odafa is still near the top of scorer list. It is even a bigger miracle that the team is still in the top 4, kudos to the coaching abilities of Subrata. It can be safely said that due to Odafaai??i??s individual brilliance, Mohun Bagan has gathered at least 12 out of 24 points so far this season. His goal against Pune FC in the last round was a further testimony to his individual talent. This season, he has also assisted his team mates from time to time with both Steve Darby and Bhattacharya praising his impact as a team-man.

Odafa has averaged 22 goals in each of lastAi??four I-League seasons. In three of these four seasons, his ex-club Churchill Brothers won the league title once and finished runners-up twice. Last season Churchill finished in 4th place, just one point behind 2nd placed East Bengal but their final table position was largely due to Odafaai??i??s injury absence in the middle of the campaign.

With 11 goals so far, the Nigerian is firmly on course to match his usual performance in the I-League but there is no guarantee that his current club will end up in a similar table position. The current Mohun Bagan team has a lot of problems but Odafa Okalieai??i??s form is definitely not one of them.

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2 Responses to “Indian Football: Odafa Okolie – An Extra Ordinary Player in An Ordinary Mohun Bagan Side”

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  1. ajit says:

    I agree with Somnath that MB’s midfield and defense is poor and that impacts the ability of Odafa.
    But, the fundamental question of investing 2 crores in an excellent striker without improving midfield is good or not is still valid. A combination of Mehtab at midfield and Ashwim/Chetri as strikers would have been much more effective from cost analysis point of view.
    I do not agree with the assessment that brilliant coaching of Surbara is reason why MB is doing good. MB’s game is really poor this season. All they are doing is to trying to kick it to Odafa. It has been successful so far. But in long run this is going to ruin MB.

  2. Santanu says:

    MB has not played spectacular football this season but still in 4th position in i-league (that’s probably also tell us about the standard of Indian football). As the today’s CFL derby win has shown, Odafa is indeed a matchwinner and with proper support he could be unstoppable. If MB management really wants to get his full value they should look for players with ability to produce good forward passes to him. With due respect to Barreto, he is not in a physical state to take the load of i-league and inspite of his experience and commitment, he is not the consistent Barreto, we know and love. MB needs to look forward and start searching for the remaining three ‘foreigner’ position for a balanced team and they should not try to experiment in this regard. The team should not be changed too much otherwise….a few judicious local additions along with 2-3 capable foreigners can make this team the best in India. And they should also stop changing the coach..team selection also should be by coach & technical committee and not by secretary.