There is a certain spring in their steps as the season is about to start. The college student who saves his pocket money to travel outside Kolkata to watch matches. The grizzled old, man who laments about the days of Chuni Goswami and Jarnail Singh. The software engineer who, regardless of all his work, makes it to Salt Lake stadium to watch his team’s matches. From Tollygunge to Texas, the mood of millions of Mohun Bagan fans scattered around the globe has been dismal during the past three seasons. Lack of major silverware, coupled with off-field problems and in general some clueless football has been the theme of the Mariners in past few seasons. But this time, there is a touch of optimism. The Green & Maroon fans are hopeful that the long, painful and barren streak will finally end this season.
Goalkeepers: Sandip Nandy, Shilton Paul, Monotosh Ghosh, Bubai Singh
It was in the era of Amal Dutta’s famous “Diamond System” that Sandip Nandy first caught the eye of the veteran coach while performing brilliantly against Mohun Bagan in an IFA League match. Dutta, always an admirer of upcoming talents, advised Mohun Bagan officials to sign the young ‘keeper. In 1998, Bagan would become Nandy’s first big club. He spent three seasons in Mohun Bagan at that time, winning every major trophy as part of one of the best squads in the country. One and half decades later the 40 year old Nandy remains one of the marvels of Indian football after dishing out a season defining performance for Churchill Brothers which would make younger ‘keepers proud. He is back where he started once again and Mohun Bagan fans will be hoping that the veteran maintains his form of last season.
Shilton Paul is right now one of the most experienced players in the club, despite his young age. Having joined the club in 2006, he has been part of the Green & Maroon for seven seasons now. His reflex saves are often a joy to watch but lack of consistency and a habit of giving “gallery-show” has prevented him to become a really top class ‘keeper. Either way, with Nandy starting, Shilton is a solid and experienced back-up ‘keeper.
Young Monotosh Ghosh played over 1200 minutes for United Sikkim last season but was largely unconvincing. He was under the posts when United let in seven goals against Dempo though he did have a decent game when United held his current club to a goal-less draw in January. Ghosh is unlikely to get much game time unless there is a big injury crisis.
Defence: Aibor Khongjee, Rowilson Rodrigues, Aniyeche Echezona, Kinshuk Debnath, Rana Gharami, Wahid Sali, Ravinder Singh, Bengkok Nameirakpam, Nicolau Borges
Defence has been a major cause of undoing for Mohun Bagan in the past three years and determined to plug that gap the club has recruited a host of defenders this season and look reasonably secure at the back in all positions save one.
For a lot of Mohun Bagan fans Aibor Khongjee was the team’s best player last season, even though he wasn’t officially recognized. Aibor excelled equally as a full-back or central defender and should he maintain his form, his versatility will be invaluable to the team. Echezona’s consistently solid performance in second half of the season was a major boost in Bagan saving relegation. The Nigerian had fitness problems last season but after a busy pre-season under Bencharifa he may be fitter this time around. Eche is likely to be an assured starter as one of the central defenders. His partner is likely to be one among Kingshuk Debnath or Rowilson Rodriguez. Debnath has already played in Mohun Bagan before, and he played well too in the 2011/12 season. However, Rowilson’s form during the pre-season has been better and his aerial prowess may give him an edge ahead of Debnath. Either way, for the first time in years Mohun Bagan have a set of central defenders who can be rotated without giving much head-ache to the coach.
Wahid Sali is an exciting recruit for Mohun Bagan this season. The powerful and bustling Keralite caught the eyes after his performances for ONGC last season and he adds to the versatility quotient thanks to his ability to play both as right-back and central defender. Sali was mentored by Mohun Bagan legend T Rahman in his formative years, which is why he chose the Green & Maroons after rejecting multiple offers. Though strong defensively and always giving his full effort, Sali’s offensive output is a weak-point and his crosses will need more improvement.
The loss of Rahim Nabi may prove to be a major dampener as Mohun Bagan’s left-back position threatens to be an Achilles’ heel. Nicolau Borges has looked slow and unfit so far while Ravinder Singh has played too little football in the past two seasons to give assurance.
Rana Gharami is one of the many young prospects roped in by Bagan this season. He has been plying his trade in IFA League for past three years and has also represented West Bengal in the Santosh Trophy. Gharami was impressive when his last club Kalighat Milan Sangha lost 3-1 to Mohun Bagan last season in the IFA League. Despite Odafa Okalie scoring a hattrick Gharami’s marking on him earned praise and Bagan official Debashis Dutta gave him a green signal that he may be recruited by the club after that game itself. He operates primarily as a central defender though he can also play as right-back.
Midfield: T. Seiboi Haokip, Adarsh Lama Tamang, Zakeer Mundampara, Manish Bhargav, Denson Devadas, Rajiv Ghorui, Adil Khan, Arghya Chakraborty, Katsumi Yusa, Manish Bhargav, Anthony Pereira, Ram Mallik
Central midfield has caused Mohun Bagan problems in the past three years and just like defence, the central midfield has also been strengthened considerably though in midfield left side remains a problem.
Adil Khan had been linked with Mohun Bagan since bursting on the scene with Sporting Clube and the Goan has quickly become a crowd favourite after finally joining the club. Adil is strong, energetic and fearless in midfield – perfectly playing the role of a snatcher. The Goan also scored on his debut with a cracking long ranger against Railways FC in IFA League. Denson Devadas was officially Mohun Bagan’s 2012/13 player of the season but his pre-season form has taken a downward dip. Devadas will need to regain his form but his combination with Adil potentially guarantees a defensively solid midfield.
Zakeer was one of the most creative midfielders in the I-League when he was in Viva Kerala though his transfer to United SC didn’t quite work out well. However, the Keralite is still young and has plenty of time to bounce back. Zakeer can potentially fix the problem of lack of creativity in central midfield with his excellent passing range.
Mohun Bagan-SAIL Academy graduate Manish Bhargav has always been an exciting talent, albeit lacking consistency. One of the main candidates for the U23 slot in starting XI, the young winger needs to find his feet in I-League this season. Bhargav scored a world class goal in the first IFA League match, something he would like to continue this season. Three more youngsters from the Academy have been made part of the team. Among them Haokip has been lauded during the pre-season and the defensive midfielder is being touted to be a star for the future. Tamang has represented, & scored, for Mohun Bagan in U20 I-League. Winger Arghya Chakravarty graduated from MB-SAIL Academy few years back and the 21 year old played for Rangdajied FC in I-League second before coming back to this club this season.
The list of youngsters continues with two more wingers with a little more experience. 18 year old Rajib Ghorui has played for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal youth teams and has also represented India U19 in numerous tournaments. Ghorui was groomed by the brilliant Raghu Nandi in Aryan FC for past three seasons and displayed his talent in IFA League. 22 year old Ram Mallik had a major breakthrough with Aryan FC last season and was even consistent for Kalighat MS previously, notably assisting thrice as KMS upset Mohammedan in 2011 Airlines Cup final. Both Ghorui and Mallik can play on either wing.
Unlike the youngsters, Anthony Perreira is one of the most experienced players in the team. His fitness record in past couple of seasons has been dodgy at best and he has also lost more than a yard of his pace. His experience though, should see him start for Bagan when he is fit.
Katsumi Yusa is undoubtedly Mohun Bagan’s marquee signing this season. The Mariners have suffered from poor recruitment in the Asian origin quota recently and Katsumi may buckle that negative trend. The Japanese is fast, tricky and posses the ability to dribble past multiple markers. His finishing isn’t that greatest but he has emphasized that assisting strikers is his primary job in the team. Katsumi is also a team-man and hard worker and has quickly settled in the Green & Maroon squad. His form throughout the season may very well prove to be the difference between success and failure for his new club.
Left-wing is a weak area of the midfield and Mohun Bagan’s failed pursuit for Lester Fernadez may prove to be a worry this season.
Strikers: Shankar Oraon, Pankaj Moula, C.S. Sabeeth, Harison Eric Muranda, Okolie Odafa
Odafa Okolie has often dragged Mohun Bagan single handedly in the past two seasons. However, fitness has been a major issue with him and it is being expected that a fully fit Odafa will wreak havoc like his Churchill Brothers days this season. Indeed, he looked focused, hungry and raring to go during pre-season, signs that will definitely encourage Bagan fans.
Sabeeth was impressive in patches last season, doing enough to get a contract extension. He has started the season well, scoring a brace in the first game. A more mature Sabeeth has surely learnt to deal with crowd pressure by now and it won’t be unfair for Mohun Bagan fans to expect a 12-15 goal season from the young striker.
Former MB-SAIL member Sankar Oraon has returned to the club from United SC but has flattered to deceive so far. Former I-League U19 top scorer, 21 year old Pankaj Moula is yet another Mohun Bagan recruit who was signed from Aryan FC. Skillful and possessing good aerial abilities, Moula has been a consistent scorer for age group teams though how he adopts in a big club will be interesting to see.
After wild transfer rumours linking the club to a wide range of players, from ex-Senegal star Papa Bouba Diop to Semen Padang hitman Edward Junior Wilson, Mohun Bagan settled for a quite anti-climactic option – signing the largely unknown Eric Muranda for six months. Muranda has had an unremarkable career though his ability to play in a variety of positions in the final third impressed watchers during his trial for Mohun Bagan. In a season when clubs can field four foreigners together, Muranda’s recruitment may prove to be a costly error if he fails to perform. However, Bencharifa has been known to get the best out of his players and Bagan fans will be hoping for the same.
For the first time in a number of seasons Mohun Bagan had a set coaching team in place while making the team. As a result, the squad, albeit lacking star names, is balanced and reasonably strong in most areas. The Moroccan is famous for his pre-season regime and the Mariners may suffer from lesser injury scares – a constant recent problem. Bencharifa has a past track record of winning trophies with the club and is well versed with the nuances of Indian football. Interestingly, most of the major I-League clubs have undergone coaching changes this summer except Bagan, something which can work in their factor. Bencharifa has started the season using a 4-3-3 formation but he has players in his hand to switch formations when necessary.
Mohun Bagan’s ongoing reluctance to participate in Durand Cup means that the club may have lost a good chance to recapture a trophy where they are the most successful team. Rovers Cup is coming back this season and Mohun Bagan is the most successful club in the Mumbai based tournament as well and may choose to participate in it. The current team is good enough to win either of IFA tournaments – League and Shield, if not both.
I-League may be too difficult to win, given the lack of experience in Mohun Bagan bench. However, coaching changes in major clubs may become a factor as the season progresses. Plus the entry of Mohammedan increases the number of matches Bagan gets to play in Kolkata, another potentially important factor. Either way, Mohun Bagan should finish top half of the table. Federation Cup is another tournament where the Green & Maroons absolutely need to find their feet. The timing of this season’s Fed Cup means that Bagan squad will be fully conditioned for the tournament, something that had not happened in past three seasons.
Winning silverware is the highest objective but another major objective will be to groom the large group of young prospects who will wear the Green & Maroon jersey this season. Bagan’s recent track record of developing young players is as good as their recent record of winning trophies. However, Bencharifa has developed players in past and Mohun Bagan fans will be hoping few of these young players do justice to their potential under his tutelage.