The Kolkata League Championship Round will kick-off at the weekend with East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting, two of the three automatic qualified teams, going head to head on Sunday at the Salt Lake Stadium. The other automatic qualified club Mohun Bagan will take to the field against Tollygunge Agragami at the same venue the following day. With the advent of the I-League, the charm and importance of the Kolkata League has diminished somewhat, but the top three fan-based clubs from the city will fight it out to earn the bragging rights. Although it is safe to bet on either East Bengal or Mohun Bagan to win the competition, the so called “smaller teams” will be desperate to buck the trend this time around.
Will East Bengal Make It Five In A Row?
East Bengal, who have won the Kolkata League a record 35 times, have been champions in the previous four editions of the competition. Trevor James Morgan guided East Bengal to their first Kolkata League title in 2010 after a gap of three years, with the Englishman also helping the Red and Gold to a couple of more local league triumphs in his next two years in charge of the club. Morgan left the club in 2013, but East Bengal’s romance with the competition continued as the Kolkata giants won the tournament for the fourth straight time last year despite Marcos Falopa being sacked just five months after succeeding Morgan and current coach Colaco struggling in his initial months in Kolkata . And with East Bengal keeping the nucleus of their squad intact, in addition to making some key additions, they are favourites to retain the Kolkata League for another season.
Can Mohun Bagan End Their Trophy Drought?
It has been nearly four years since Mohun Bagan won any trophy (not taking into account the Airlines Cup final victory over Mohammedan Sporting last year via walk-over) and the Green and Maroon will be eager to put an end to their trophy drought. A lot has happened during this time, ranging from sacking coaches to major overhauling of the squad, but Mohun Bagan have failed to stem the rot. However, the club’s hierarchy has managed to put together a balanced squad this term, along with putting a successful Subhash Bhowmick at the helm. So, this well may be the year the club break their trophy jinx and put a smile on the face of their supporters. Incidentally, the last trophy Mohun Bagan managed to win was the Kolkata League in 2009.
The upcoming Kolkata League Championship Round will be just a one-month affair and it is a very good move by the organisers, the Indian Football Association (IFA). For the past few years, poor scheduling has been a vital reason behind the Kolkata League being regarded as a hindrance by the big clubs in their bid to perform well in the Federation Cup and the I-League. And it is true to some extent as the fixtures of the local league often clashed with that of the national tournaments. Also the one-month format will help the smaller clubs to perform well, given their financial restraints.
Previously, clubs like Peerless, Aryan and Kalighat MS amongst others struggled to put forward a team capable enough to challenge the big guns as they had to let go of their foreigners in the fag-end of the tournament as a cost-curtailing measure due to the lengthy scheduling of the Kolkata League. However, the new short and crisp format will go a long way in making the Kolkata League more competitive and exciting.
How East Bengal And Mohun Bagan Will Fare Without Full Strength?
With a host of players from both the clubs being loaned out to various franchises of the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL), which is due to start in October, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan may field second-string sides in the Kolkata League. And even if the loaned players are available, the clubs may refrain from fielding them in fear of burn-outs. A long road comprising of various tournaments lies ahead and the Kolkata League provides the ideal opportunity for the clubs to check their bench strengths. Both the Red and Gold and the Green and Maroon have plenty of young talented individuals, who will be raring to showcase their talent in the local league to be in the reckoning for the bigger tournaments, in their rosters. In addition, the foreigners may also not play in all of the matches due to either not being match-fit or having not yet arrived in the city.
Watch Out For Ranti Martins In East Bengal Colours
Ranti Martins penned a two-year deal with East Bengal after the end of last season and the Red and Gold faithful will be dying to see the Nigerian goal-machine in action for their favourite club in competitive games, with the Kolkata League providing that opportunity. The former Dempo and United Sports star is the only East Bengal foreigner to have arrived in the city and has also featured and scored in the club’s pre-season friendly games. But playing in the Kolkata League in front of vociferous supporters is a different thing altogether. Apart from the East Bengal fans, Mohun Bagan followers and neutrals will also keep an eye out on how Ranti fares for their rivals. The 27-year-old, who has been a prolific scorer in India, will be itching to reproduce the same form for Armando Colaco’s side. And if Ranti is in song, East Bengal are firm favourites to win their first trophy of the season by mid-September.
Apart from the above mentioned points, another thing worth mentioning is that IFA will be introducing the vanishing spray, which became a hit at the recently concluded World Cup, in this edition of the Kolkata League. The spray is used by the referees to draw a line so that the wall of players stand 10 yards away from the ball at free-kicks, and the paint disappears after a couple of minutes. It is no doubt a good step, but it remains to be seen if the standard of play increases to match the surrounding hypes.