Mohun Bagan’s main problem was in central midfield, especially defensive medio. Rakesh Masih who is originally a stopper, has fitted in nicely in this position. Rakesh is playing very well and his combination with Marcos has stabilized the team’s midfield a lot. Read his full interview.

Question: Congrats Rakesh on Mohun Bagan’s 9th consecutive win in I-league and for winning Federation Cup.

 Rakesh: Thanks a lot. Yes I am happy that Mohun Bagan is performing well and pleased that I am contributing in my way to team’s success. Yes, Federation Cup win was indeed a special one, we did qualify for Asia Cup.

Question: Who was your coach before you went to TFA?

Rakesh: I am from Gurdaspur, Punjab. I was in Mahalpur Academy under coach Ali Hasan. Many players like Manjit Singh, Harmanjit Singh Khabra, etc. are all from this academy.

Question: You joined TFA in which year?

Rakesh: I joined TFA in 2005. Actually I joined a little late than others of my batch. I missed the trial organized by TFA. I came to know about this a little late. My coach asked TFA whether they can arrange another trial for me, TFA agreed and then I got selected. My uncle also helped me. He is a past player of Punjab Police, Darshan Masih. He did got a call from East Bengal in his playing days but did not go as he had to leave his job in Punjab Police.

Question: What will you do if you get a job offer?

Rakesh: (Laughing) Today only I got a job offer. I talked about this with Satya Da. I have not finally decided about it but most probably I will not take the offer. I want to be a full-time professional player and I think if I join office, I will not be able to concentrate fully on my career.

Question: How far did you study? You always wanted to be a footballer?

Rakesh: I studied till Class 12. Yes I always gave less importance to education, wanted to be a footballer from childhood.

Question: Who was your coach in TFA?

Rakesh: My coaches were Ranjan Chowdhury, Vijay Kumar, Carlton Chapman. All of them were great coaches. We learnt a lot in TFA, especially the basics.

Question: You played as a defender in TFA?

Rakesh: Actually I played in a lot of positions. Ranjan Sir used to keep me in defence, he had more faith in my ability as a defender whereas Chapman Sir did a lot of experiment with me. In some tournaments, where Chapman Sir was coach, he tried me as central midfielder, left half and even as a striker. I played more or less well in all positions. In Steel Tournament held in Jamshedpur, I played for Jamshedpur district as a striker and scored 5 goals from 4 matches. I can play in any position, all depends on coach of team, where he wants to use me.

Question: Any foreign tours you had?

Rakesh: Yes, I went to play in Srilanka for a friendly match of Under-20 Indian team and also toured Bangladesh as part of Under-23 Indian team. I went to England and also played in Wells cup from TFA, in the past Andre Shevchenko had played in the tournament.

Question: Your remarkable match while in TFA?

Rakesh: In Jamshedpur, we played a practice match against Mohun Bagan. We were trailing by 3-0 at lemon break. In 2nd half, we scored two goals but we eventually lost the match 3-2. Coach Carlos Perreira of Mohun Bagan praised us and was particularly happy with mine and Henry’s peformance.

Question: Heard you wanted to join Mohun Bagan after TFA.

Rakesh: Yes you are correct. After the practice match in Jamshedpur, I had made up my mind that I will join Mohun Bagan after talking to Jose Barreto. When we had a talk with Barreto, he told us about the club, how good the officials are and the overall environment and last but not least about the supporters. I also wanted to play with Baichung and Barreto.

Question: How many years agreement you have with Mohun Bagan?

Rakesh: All of the TFA players have 2 years agreement.

Question: Any difference of coaching while in TFA and under Kareem?

Rakesh: See the main difference is that TFA is an academy where we learnt the basics very nicely while in Mohun Bagan, we have to concentrate on winning trophies because that is very much required in top clubs. Here basics is taught as well as match situation, setpiece practice etc. Kareem Sir is an exceptional good coach, he gives a lot of stress to fitness, usually he does not want to play an unfit player unless he is fully fit. See the case of Branco. Coach gave him proper rest and will not use him until he is completely fit. He did not take any risk by playing an unfit player, it could have aggravated his injury further. Kareem Sir never distinguishes between senior and junior players, he gives importance to all players, whether he is part of first team or not. He does a lot of situation practice, the second goal for Mohun Bagan against Air India was a result of that. The way Ishfaq snatched the ball and made a down the middle run and gave pass to Barreto, coach had taught us such movements in practice. I am not taking anything away from Ishfaq’s run or Barreto’s finish, it was indeed a world class goal.

Another thing, in Kolkata, ground conditions are very heavy during Kolkata league and to continue playing well in all tournaments, we must have good fitness, I follow coach’s instruction regarding this. I have seen Barreto, Marcos, Baichung spending extra hours in gym after practice and it is due to their dedication that they are still playing so well.

Question: In Mohun Bagan you played both as defensive midfielder as well as stopper, which one do you prefer?

Rakesh: As I told u, I will play in whatever position coach will ask me to play. I am comfortable in both positions. Kareem Sir will take the final decision on team composition. Against Bayern, I played in stopper while against East Bengal, my first match under Kareem Sir, I played in midfield.

Question: Did you lose hope after the debacle in the initial phase of I league?

Rakesh: Actually, I knew one good match would change our fortune. After the away match loss against Sporting de Goa, we were demoralized. In team meeting after the match. Barreto and Baichung said to all of us that club officials are giving so much to us and did not blame any one of us for the defeat, so it is now time that we start playing as a team and start winning matches. In this context, I would like to tell you that, like every month we got our cheques in time in that month also when we were not performing well in I league. After draw against Air India, we even got our incentives of Kolkata league. The officials of Mohun Bagan are very professional.

Question: Do senior players motivate during match?

Rakesh: Yes, Baichung, Barreto and other seniors always help us and gives us advice during match. In Air india match, after we scored our 2nd goal, for last 15 minutes Air India was building up pressure, I was around center circle at that time, Baichung asked me to go back in defence. Sometimes, when we make mistakes during match, Barreto says to us "dal roti" (laughing) means cool down, simple play. I remember in Kolkata league, after losing 2 points in one match, Barreto called us next morning and we had a swimming sesion together, this really helped us to relax a lot.

Question: In midfield, do you like playing as defensive medio or you prefer attacking?

Rakesh: Actually every player wants to go and attack for scoring goals but if coach asks me not to overlap, I don’t do that. In the initial matches this year, Kareem Sir asked me not to go for attack much and to stay to consolidate defence but after arrival of Marcos, now sometimes he said that I can go and overlap, in that case Marcos stays back vice versa.

Question: Say something about Kolkata.

Rakesh: This is indeed a great city, so much love for football. In Punjab, hardly there was any crowd in the matches. Here stadium gets filled up. In Kolkata league also, most of the matches had packed galleries, it really helps us to perform well, motivates us to give our best. Definitely there is pressure while playing in Kolkata but I have no complaint regarding that as I do not have problem playing under pressure. My first two matches for Mohun Bagan were against Bayern Munich and East Bengal, both matches were big matches.

Question: What are your future plans? Any interest of giving trial for foreign clubs?

Rakesh: Till now, by God’s grace, I am having a successful career, I have always been selected in first team whether in TFA or Mohun Bagan. I will have to continue that. I have not decided about foreign clubs as of yet. First let me continue playing well for few years and then if offer comes I will decide.

Question: Indian senior team coach Bob Houghton has selected you, your reactions.

Rakesh: I am very proud that I have been selected. I will have to play well for India. He is a very good coach. In Hong Kong, I came as a substitute in place of Pradeep. I played with Climax Lawrence in midfield. The formation which Houghton used is same as what we play in Mohun Bagan and I played in the same position i.e. defensive medio. Previous to this, I have represented India in many under-age tournaments. So, in a way, this is not a new experience for me.

Question: Who is your ideal in Indian Football?

Rakesh: Mahesh Gawli. Once after India senior team performed badly, a decision was made to give chance to some juniors, I got chance and played with Mahesh, Pradeep etc. at that time.

Question: What about International Football and your favorite team?

Rakesh: I support Arsenal and Brazil and my favorite player is Kaka.

Question: AIFF might cut down number of foreigners in each team to 2 from next year, you welcome this?

Rakesh: Yes this will be good for Indian players as they will get more chance.

Question: Do you watch movies? Your favorite Actors?

Rakesh: Usually I watch sports channel most of the time but yes I do like to watch hindi movies. My favorite actors are Amir Khan and Kajol.

Question: How many brothers and sisters you have?

Rakesh: I have 3 elder sisters and 1 elder brother. As I told you, my house is in Gurdaspur, it is near Pakistan border, so there is little tension always. My family members are always updated about the matches of Mohun Bagan and they are happy with my performance. They tell me that I should not get carried away by my performance.

Question: The last question, do you think Mohun Bagan will be champion of I league?

Rakesh: Yes definitely we are one of the favorites to become champions. We have recovered nicely and will have to continue with our winning spree. Now we have a great team spirit and I hope that we will become champions, but still we will have to win 5-6 matches.

Thanks Rakesh and best of luck for the next matches.

Rakesh: Thank you.

INTERVIEW: Shiladitya Mitra and Nirmalya Maity

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