The race for the 2014 Kolkata League was the closest in recent years with East Bengal defeating Tollygunge Agragami on the final day to clinch their fifth consecutive local league title. Armando Colaco’s side needed the full three points against surprising title challengers Tollygunje to win the trophy, and a 2-1 win ensured just that. East Bengal finished the league with 25 points from 10 games, closely followed by Mohun Bagan and Tollygunje, who finished on 24 and 22 points respectively.
Colaco’s Youth Policy
Before the start of the tournament, Colaco insisted that he will use the Kolkata League as a platform to develop the youngsters of East Bengal, an idea that did not go well with the club’s hierarchy and supporters. Colaco soon had to let go of his plan, following his youthful side’s 1-0 loss to Mohammedan Sporting in their opening game of the campaign. Although East Bengal played well in the game and created a number of openings, the defeat meant that Colaco had to backtrack from his vision of providing the younger players an opportunity to showcase their talents, at least for the moment. The five-time I-League winning coach reinstated the senior players for East Bengal next four games, out of which the Kolkata giants drew one and won three, including the 3-1 triumph over their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan. However, after 18 East Bengal players left to join their respective franchises for the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL), the onus was once again on the starlets to deliver; and this time they did not disappoint as East Bengal won their remaining five fixtures to register their 36th Kolkata League triumph. The likes of Prohlad Roy, Abinash Ruidas, Abhishek Das and Kishan Bag proved that they are more than ready to step into the shoes of their seniors and even challenge them for a spot in the starting line-up once they return from ISL duties.
Arrival of Dudu Omagbemi
When Dudu landed in Kolkata, East Bengal were struggling in the competition. The Red and Gold had already dropped five points, and were trailing their upcoming opponents Mohun Bagan by two points. Although Dudu did not start against Mohun Bagan, he made an instant impact at East Bengal. The Nigerian, who was seen pepping up his new team-mates from the bench during the high-voltage clash and, came on as a second-half substitute when his side were already winning 3-1. However, the introduction of Dudu in the game meant that Mohun Bagan could not go all out in fear of conceding more goals. He showed glimpses of his brilliance in the Kolkata derby, but failed to add to his team’s tally. But the former Sporting Clube de Goa and Salgaocar striker laid the foundation for a lethal partnership with his compatriot Ranti Martins upfront. Dudu was in sublime form in his side’s remaining five matches in the Kolkata League as he banged in eight goals, including two hat-tricks against Army XI and SAI respectively, to finish as the competition’s joint top-scorer alongside Tollygunje’s Koko Sakibo. The arrival of Dudu helped East Bengal to turn around their sluggish form as rival defences found it hard to stop the deadly Ranti-Dudu pair.
East Bengal’s Bench-Strength
East Bengal have one of the strongest squads in the whole of India, let alone the Kolkata League. It was once again proved when East Bengal played some great football despite losing 18 players to the ISL. The Kolkata giants have at least two good footballers in every position, except the striking front where Dudu and Ranti are miles ahead. The likes of Mehtab Hossein, Harmanjot Singh Khabra and Arnab Mondal seemed indispensible, but Safar Sardar, Subodh Kumar and Sukhwinder Singh amongst others rose to the occasion and made sure that the ISL-bound players were not missed. Yes, the youngsters were a big reason behind East Bengal’s title triumph, but the efforts of seasoned campaigners like R.Dhanarajan, Gurwinder Singh and Abhra Mondal cannot be denied.
Peaking at the Right Time
It is often said that champion teams start slowly and then peak during the business-end of a campaign; East Bengal did just that to win their fifth consecutive Kolkata League title. The Red and Gold’s, who started their title defence with a slender 1-0 loss to Mohammedan Sporting, scripted a 4-1 win over BNR in their second game. However, Colaco’s side needed an injury-time strike to down BNR before drawing 1-1 with minnows Kalighat MS. Many though East Bengal were out of the title race, but East Bengal had other ideas as they won their next six games to claim the Kolkata League once again. The six-game winning run included a 3-1 win over Mohun Bagan and a 2-1 success against Tollygunje in the final game of the competition, when any result other than a victory would have meant East Bengal surrendering the Kolkata League. Hence, the Kolkata giants’ ability to win “important” matches showed that they have the character and steely determination required to mount a serious challenge for the I-League and the Federation Cup.
Colaco’s Managerial Skills
Colaco from the very beginning said he is not desperate to win the Kolkata League, but that he wishes to use the tournament as a preparatory platform. Supporters were peeved with the idea, but what they failed to understand was that Colaco was deftly sucking all the pressure to himself so that his charges could enjoy on the field. The 61-year-old’s celebration after his side’s victory over Tollygunje to win the Kolkata League proved that Colaco aimed for the championship and that winning it meant a lot to him. In addition, he kept his squad, disciplined, motivated and hungry which will definitely bore fruit on the long run.