Few days back a number of Pailan Arrows players were punished by AIFF. They were fined for a flurry of reasons, some quite serious. The list of fined players contained Akashdeep Singh, Bikramjit Singh, Shilton D’Silva, Prathamesh Maulingker, Siam Hangal, Alwyn George, Jayabrata Dhar, Shehnaz Singh, Ravinder Singh and Sayan Roy. It is not fully clear what each of them did but the list of offences included turning up late for practice repeatedly and staying out late during night. At least one footballer was reported to be in company of a woman during an I-League match. The most severe punishment included a 50% fine of their monthly salary while rest got away with amounts between 10% and 25%. Curiously, one of the footballers refused to pay the fine and instead argued his case with AIFF.
Arthur Papas, who has mostly won rave reviews for his work in India till now was primarily responsible for compiling the reports on offenders. A strict disciplinarian, Papas is well aware that young footballers can lose their way quickly and this step will be a welcome sign in Indian football. There have been cases where young footballers have wasted away their potential due to off field issues. Footballers often come up from poor backgrounds and the quick money they make after getting into an I-League club can turn their heads.
A prime example of this is Lalam Puia. The North Eastern striker was possibly the best raw talent that came into Indian football in past decade. On his day Lalam could tear away any defence at his will. He had pace, power and was technically sound with good ball control. A product of Tata Football Academy, Lalam reached his peak in 2008 while playing for Mohun Bagan when his brace sealed a 2-1 victory in a Kolkata Derby after Bagan ahd fallen behind. Yet, Lalam never fulfilled his potential thanks to his drinking problems. He was ill disciplined off the field and allegedly assaulted a Mohun Bagan staff when he was in inebriated state. His form and fitness dropped rapidly as he was shown the door out of the club. He joined United SC but had to leave the club in 2010 due disciplinary issues yet again. By the time he turned 22 one of the most talented strikers in Indian football had become a liability for the big names in the country as his career effectively ended.
Papas needs to ensure that Pailan Arrows footballers don’t go the Lalam Puia way. The list of punished players includes some who are expected to be the future of Indian football and they need careful grooming. These players are better paid than most of the footballers in the same age bracket in other clubs so it’s easier to dwindle away. Sports Psychology is an almost unheard of concept in Indian football so footballers who are ill disciplined are rarely counseled properly. Two or three decades back authoritative club officials like Dhiren Dey, JC Guha would have acted as a father figure for young players but such great men are not found these days. So it is up to the coaches to ensure players stay on correct course. Foreign managers likes Trevor James Morgan and Papas have introduced the system of fines for turning up late in practice which is a welcome step.
Ironically this incident comes at a time when Arrows are enjoying their best ever start in I-League. They have already gathered eight points this season, half of their tally of entire last season. In their first season they had 5 points after 6 rounds and had conceded 14 goals. Last season they fared even worse, collecting just 2 points in 6 rounds after conceding 12 goals. This year, in contrast, they have collected 8 points after six rounds and conceded just 7 goals. So there are clear signs of progress. Even more than the results, the style of football they have played is more important. For a change Pailan Arrows players don’t look uncomfortable in possession or look to hoof the ball up field at the first chance they get. Right now, it is vital they keep their focus and aim finishing in top half of the table.
On the field, Pailan Arrows slumped to yet another defeat but they fought tooth and nail with one of the strongest teams in the league, Prayag United. Carlos Hernandez notched up yet another assist as Vineeth gave United an early lead. Prayag, however, couldn’t repeat the performance of last round as the energetic Arrows youngsters gave them a hard time. It seemed that youngster would pull out yet another shock result when Narayan Das equalized on 84th minute but Lalkamal Bhowmik grabbed the late winner for United. With this win Prayag United leapfrog Dempo in the table. Pailan Arrows might not have got a single point from this encounter but their general performance was an improvement over their loss against Pune FC in last round.
Just like Prayag United, both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan chalked up victories with identical scoreline. Mohan Bagan’s capture of Karim Bencharifa had turned their encounter with Salgaocar into a grudge match but the Mariners bounced back in style from the last round draw against ONGC. Denson Devadas, Odafa Okalie and Stanley found the net for Mohun Bagan.
Mridul Banerjee, the interim coach has turned the side around magnificently and the likes of Stanley have improved markedly. For third consecutive season a local coach has steadied the Mohun Bagan ship after coaches with little success and even lesser experience of Kolkata football have given the club pathetic starts. Banerjee will now play assistant to Karim Bencharifa but Mohun Bagan officials might think about giving a chance to local coaches than the likes of Kashyap and Stanley Rosario in future. With Bencharifa joining the club shortly things are suddenly looking bright for the Green & Maroons.
Mohun Bagan’s bitter cross-town rivals also notched up a highly impressive 3-0 away win over Churchill Brothers, thus extending their unbeaten run to a club record of 28 games. Edeh Chidi continued his steady form with a brace while Manandeep Singh scored what was probably the goal of the round. East Bengal played without Mehtab Hussain, which makes their win all the more wonderful. The club is also close to signing the 4th foreigner in Asian quota so they will only become stronger. The Red & Golds also took the top spot after this win.
ONGC notched up another impressive result following last week’s draw against Mohun Bagan by upsetting defending champions Dempo. Armando Colaco’s team had been getting results in past few rounds but their general performance had been poor and their luck finally ran out in Delhi. Led by man of the match Robin Gurung in heart of the defence the Oilmen put up a spirited show against Dempo and could have notched up more goals if they were more clinical. Dempo’s loss showed that they desperately need their foreigners to perform quickly.
There were some crucial results in bottom of the table where Mumbai FC made most of the headlines with a fine 4-1 victory over Lajong FC. Elsewhere Baichung Bhutia’s stint as coach didn’t get off to best of starts as they slumped to a 2-1 loss against fellow relegation battlers Sporting Clube with Seiya Sugishita registering his first goal and an assist. The Maharashtra derby between Pune FC and Air India was cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances.
Overall, this was a significant week for the Kolkata clubs while Goan clubs had to endure some dismal times. The two clubs from North East once against showed that they are poor travellers and lost their matches.