Mohun Bagan finished an extremely successful season of 2008-09 where they won 3 major tournaments, Kolkata premier league, Federation cup and Super Cup and missed I league by a whisker and finished runners up. Last year was not only one of the best performance of Mohun Bagan in recent years but also by any Kolkata clubs. We congratulate coach, officials and players for this success and hope to continue with this performance next season. Read complete review of the season.
The year 2008-09 was a challenge for Team McDowell Mohun Bagan in more ways than one. In order to perform well this season, Mohun Bagan management decided to rebuild the team and the Club Officials showed wisdom by choosing to lay more emphasis on building up a young side. They inducted a plethora of talent from the Tata Football Academy and also sourced a few players from their very own MB Sail Football Academy. Mohun Bagan decided to discontinue service of quite a few players like Bijay Basfore, Chinmoy Sarkar, Peter Siddiqui, Venkatesh, Douglas, Suman Dutta etc. due to their below par performance last year.
In keeping with the general mentality and focus, the Club Officials inducted the young coach Karim Bencherifa from Churchill Brothers. Consequently, the Club dispensed with Carlos Alberto Pareira, the soft- spoken aged Brazilian. For a change Kolkata witnessed for the first time a cordial parting between a Club and its football coach.
The start of the 2008 football season saw McDowell Mohun Bagan play a pre-season “friendly” on 27 May, 2008 at the Salt Lake Stadium against a touring Bayern Munich side. The match was hosted as a tribute to the retiring Oliver Kahn, the legendary German goalkeeper and as always McDowell Mohun Bagan, the Club synonymous with historic feats, starting off as the first Indian club to win the IFA Shield during the British Raj, way back in 1911 were given the rare honour to play against them.
The star-packed Bayern Munich team, including stalwarts like Oliver Kahn, Zé Roberto, Mark van Bommel and José Ernesto Sosa managed to win the match but McDowell Mohun Bagan, who were missing 5 of their star players (e.g. Jose Barreto, Bhaichung Bhutia, Deepak Mondal, N. N. Manju and a few others), doing National duty did not go down without a fight. The youngsters of Bagan earned much appreciation from the Bayern coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld. Hitzfeld later at the press conference stated that McDowell Mohun Bagan played very well, in fact better than the national team of Indonesia, and much beyond his expectations. He also praised some Bagan players like Pachau Lalampuia and Isfaq Ahmed for their excellent performance. The match was played in front of a record breaking 125,000 people leaving the German team awestruck. Mohun Bagan missed few chances in first half, James Singh Jr. missing a very easy chance. Ishfaq Ahmed was very impressive throughout the match and caused trouble to Bayern defence by his speedy run. Due to prior commitment, coach Karim was not present in the match and assistant coach, Satyajit Chatterjee took responsibility for this match.
Kolkata Premier League
With the start of the football season, McDowell Mohun Bagan Club’s first competition was the KPL. Karim Bencherifa, the McDowell Mohun Bagan coach, instilled a sense of purpose in the boys and the Club won the Kolkata Premier League, back to back and, for a change, Mohammedan Sporting Club, coming a close second and in the process outsmarting and consigning another Kolkata powerhouse Kingfisher East Bengal Club to the third spot. Kingfisher East Bengal Club was touted as the pre-season favourite as they had, on paper, perhaps the best side available amongst all the Clubs of the country. McDowell Mohun Bagan continued their unbeaten run against their archrival outplaying them 2-1 in the first leg and drawing 1-1 in the return leg.
After 1st league, Mohun Bagan won 5 matches out of 7. Coach Karim was facing a little problem with midfield, especially with defensive medio, but after he used Rakesh Masih for the first team in that position in East Bengal match and this decision paid off quite well and Bagan midfield stabilized a little bit. Then in 2nd league, team came under a bit pressure after losing point against Chirag, the match ending 1-1 and against Mohammedan Sporting team was down 1-0 but in the very last minute of the match Habibur scored the equalizing goal. This according to many, including Karim Bencharifa, was the turning point of the tournament. In the last match of the league, Mohun Bagan faced East Bengal needing just a draw to become Champions. Many key players of Mariners missed the match due to injury including Dipak, Odafe, Habibur, Lalkamal, Baichung. Coach, who had kept his reserve bench ready, played Rino Anto in right back, Anand Vashan in stopper, Lalramluaha, James Jr. in midfield and team played quite well and was leading 1-0 for better part of the match but conceded a goal in 84th minute, though that did not prevent Mohun Bagan from becoming champions.
After winning Kolkata league, Habibur was all praise for coach and said, "Our coach is an exceptional good coach. Due to him, our team has a great team spirit. We do not give up easily. We fight till the last minute. One most important thing is that he gives importance to all players, whether he is in first team or reserve bench he does not look at that. If I am in first team or reserve bench, I will get the same treatment from him. He knows the importance of every single member of the squad. Previously I have seen few coaches behave indifferently towards players of reserve bench. Since he gives importance to all players, they all fight for him. In last match, 3 players of 1st team in defence were not there in team still we played well as reserve bench played really well and credit goes to coach as he has kept reserve bench ready. In our team, right now, all the players in the squad are mentally ready to play and give their 100% for our team irrespective of whether he is in our 1st team or not. Kareem keeps them all mentally prepared. All players in our team want to give more than 100%. Other than our coach and Barreto, other important factors for our win is our team spirit, our do or die attitude and the fact that we have many players who can play in many positions eg. Rino Anto who is a left back but played so well in right back against East Bengal, Manju who played so well as left back though basically he is a stopper, Rakesh Masih who is basically a stopper but played so well in midfield. We have a lot of young talent in our team who has mixed very well with the seniors."
Immediately after the completion of the Kolkata Premier League, it was big time football for the Club, as it now had to lock horns with the other All India Clubs for the 2008-09 I-League. Each club playing in the I-League had to play a total of 22 matches. The start for McDowell Mohun Bagan was disastrous as they lost the opener and just managed to salvage a draw in the very next. Incidentally, both were against two middle-ranked Mumbai teams and both matches played at home.
This downslide continued for the first five matches and the Club could muster just 3 points. Questions began to be asked about the competence of some of the players as not even the most optimist fan ever thought of performing well in the I-League. The Club lacked a midfield game-maker as Lal Kamal Bhowmick, the talented medio, struck a bad patch and could not deliver the desired result. The Club had to hurriedly sign-up Marcos Perreira. Marcos’s arrival bolstered the midfield and caused a turnaround from the 6th match onwards when playing with just 10 men for a major part of the match, McDowell Mohun Bagan Club won against Dempo Sports Club in Panaji Goa by the slenderest of margin.
Speaking on this, Rakesh said, " 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."
Thereafter, there was no looking back for the Club and they did the extraordinary; they won 10 I-League matches in a row, a record by an Indian club. This rare feat also received special mention in FIFA’s website. All of a sudden, the Club became a serious contender for the I-League title. By the end of the first round of 11 matches, McDowell Mohun Bagan Club with 21 points were in hot pursuit for the title with just 4 points separating them from the then league leader, Sporting Clube de Goa.
Mohun Bagan beat Dempo in Goa 1-0 playing with 10 man, in the next match they beat Churchill, and again playing with 10 men Mohun Bagan defeated JCT 2-0. After JCT match, coach said, "I am very happy with how my team fought with one man short. Yes I had to change my plan like the Dempo match. I always have an alternate plan and apply it according to the situation of the match. However, whatever strategy or plan that I make is in paper, it is the players who execute them in field, so credit really should be given to them for this brilliant performance. Our team spirit has been very good."
Next Mohun Bagan beat Vasco in an away match, Mahindra and Chirag in home match. In 2nd league, Mohun Bagan won the first 4 matches beating Mumbai FC and Air India in Mumbai and then Sporting de Goa and Mohammedan Sporting. After 10-match win record, coach in post match press conference said, "This is our 10th win in a row and I am happy with my team’s performance. Yes we were not consistent enough today and made few errors but defence and goalkeeper played really well. We also got quite a few chances to score. Their defender has got Man of the Match award, that means we have also put up a lot of pressure. Winning trophy is always important. The 10 match win will not be of any significance if we fail to win the I league."
However, the side faltered at the 16th round where it lost to the archrival, Kingfisher East Bengal 3-0. The faltering continued as the Club lost its away match to Churchill Brothers, Goa 3-1, Mohun Bagan was leading 1-0 by a brilliant Barreto goal but team faltered in 2nd half and lost an all important match. Next they beat Chirag and faced JCT in a must win match in Ludhina but unfortunately lost 2 points, Mohun Bagan conceded a sameside goal by Rahul. Coach Karim said after match, I am disappointed that Mohun Bagan has lost 2 points in the match. My anguish increased after getting to know that Churchill has lost 2 points. The match was a 50-50 match, any team could have won the match. Both of the teams created chances and could not score. It is hard luck that at the last moment our effort came off post. About Rahul, I can say that he had a great game but very unfortunately he was involved with the only goal that Mariners conceded." The league standings changed and Churchill Brothers became the league leader and McDowell Mohun Bagan a close second by way of goal difference. Mohun Bagan then beat Vasco and Dempo and needed to win their last match against Mahindra hoping that Churchill will lose points against Mohammedan, but the 22nd and final round saw the Club lose against Mahindra United in a match played at a neutral venue, in Delhi and become the runners-up. Churchill Brothers won their match comprehensively against Kolkata’s Mohammedan Sporting. This win gave them the I-League 2008-09 and relegated Mohammedan Sporting to the NFL-2. However, the way team fought back after getting only 3 points from 5 matches, credit have to be given to the players and coach for this great turnaround.
Federation Cup 2008
Immediately after the conclusion of the 1st leg of the I-League there was a gap of two months and the Federation Cup took place from the 4th December, 2008 to the 21st December’09. The matches were played at Barasat and Kolkata’s Yuba Bharati Krirangan. There were 16 teams in the fray and were split into 4 groups. The teams were to play against each other and the top team from each group would advance to play the semifinal. Mohun Bagan had an extremely tough draw and had to play 5 matches in 10 days. Nowhere in world football, a team has to play 5 consecutive matches in such a short time.
Mohun Bagan won their first match but in their 2nd match there was a big upset as Mariners lost to Vasco. In last match of the group, Mohun Bagan faced a much win situation against Air India. Mohun Bagan was down 1-0 in first half. However, team came back strongly in 2nd half and scored 2 goals in quick succession. Air India too got a chance to equalize from a spot kick that was awarded after Anand Vasan had handled the ball and Sangram made a brilliant diving save. This was perhaps the turning point of the tournament and there was no looking back for Bagan. In semi finals, they met archrivals East Bengal. The match was a keenly contested one and score was 1-1 after 120 minutes. In tie breaker, Mohun Bagan scored 5 goals and Sangram saved one shot and helped Mariners to reach final.
In Final, Mohun Bagan faced Dempo. This was perhaps the best match of Mohun Bagan this season. Mariners totally outplayed Dempo. Mohun Bagan completely dominated the match to such an extent that Sangram had to make just one save during the match and Dempo got only one easy chance to score, that too at the fag end of the match. Mohun Bagan won the match 1-0, goal scored by Barreto.
After match, Karim said, "This is one of the best matches we played this year and we won a tactical game. I give full credit to Dempo whose defenders did a good job and made our task tougher. We may have slight domination but Dempo also played well but yes after we scored the goal, the match came completely in our grip. We could have scored few more goals." Credit definitely goes to coach Kareem who marshalled the tactics. Dempo mainly relied on Beto and Clifford in their midfield which Kareem did not allow to function properly. It was due to Habibur that Clifford Miranda could not deliver his crosses from left side. Marcos totally controlled the midfield from start of the match and also made sure that he did not allow Beto to move freely and covered him up nicely with his brilliant anticipation and tackling. When asked to comment about Marcos, Karim said "Usually I don’t name players but about Man of the Tournament, the first name that comes to my mind is Marcos, he was absolutely brilliant and today did not allow any free space to Beto. Before the match, it was our tactical decision to stop their attacks from wing and to mark Beto properly and the boys did their job brilliantly."
Dipak was brilliant in stopper position and did not allow Ranty to take any shot towards goal. Dipak was well supported by Masih in defence. About Dipak, Karim said, "Credit goes to him because when playing in stopper position, he being not so tall, have to win aerial battles with some tall strikers like Ranty. Usually when he plays in side back that is not a problem. He has extremely good sense and good anticipation. He is one of the best stoppers in India." Last but not least, Jose Ramirez Barreto, the best foreigner of all time to have played in Kolkata. Critics sometimes raise questions about his fitness, about his agility, but the man goes on performing. As Veronica laughed about this after match, "Barreto and we don’t care about who says what, his job is to perform and he tries to deliver in field." Kareem said, "With Barreto in our team, we always have an extra captain, who is leading the players from front without an arm band." Kareem dedicated the Fed Cup to his wife, his son and to all the fans of Mohun Bagan. It is a nice gesture indeed on part of Kareem who said, "I know how the fans are feeling. We feel happy to bring smile to their face." When asked whether this is an answer to the critics, Kareem said, "No, I have no grudge against anybody. In fact, I don’t feel reporters didn’t criticize our team that much, they were just pushing us and pointing out our mistakes. You people played like good defenders and didn’t commit fully (laughing)." However, Kareem is happy about the team spirit, he said, "I have no doubt now that we are the best team in the country when it comes to team spirit and solidarity. Look at (NS) Manju. He didn’t play in the tournament but he was celebrating more than those who played today. That’s a good sign.
This victory was an answer to the critics who only finds fault of our team and criticized when we signed Marcos and continously wrote against our team, Barreto, Baichung, Kareem."
In 9th minute, Barreto gave a brilliant through pass towards Ishfaq who failed to control the ball and missed an easy chance. In 16th minute, Marcos took a free kick from right side which Barreto headed towards Lalampuia who could not take a shot, wasting yet another chance for Mariners. Then Satish made a brilliant save to keep the scoreline same, Ishfaq had sent a cross from left side and Barreto’s header was saved briiliantly by Dempo custodian.
In 55th minute, Marcos missed an easy chance when he lobbed the ball over bar with goalkeeper out of position. In 68th minute, Mariners scored the winning goal of the match. Lalkamal took the corner from left side by his right foot which went over Satish Kumar and straight to Habibur but he miscued the header and ball went straight to Barreto who did not waste any time and his shot went inside goal making it 1-0 in favor of Mohun Bagan. The chaotic scenario at the end of the match was the spoiler of the day. With Police personnel donning the role of mere spectators, the rampaging crowd broke the Federation Cup banner and it wouldn’t have been surprising if the trophy itself suffered the same fate today. However, this kind of reaction is not surprising from Mohun Bagan crowd as they were overjoyed by team’s 13th Fed Cup victory.
Tragedy struck before the final when an accident cost a Mohun Bagan supporter’s life at the Salt Lake stadium. Mr Sanjeeb Jana, aged 28, fell from the ramps of the stadium before the commencement of the match. He was admitted immediately to a city hospital where he was declared dead next morning. We, www.mohunbaganclub.com, raised funds for his family and gave Rs. 74600 divided equally to his wife and mother. Mohun Bagan club also contributed, President Tutu Bose handed over the money to his wife.
The Super Cup is a one-off match between the Federation Cup champion side and the I-League winner to decide the Champion Club of India. The match was played in Gurgaon, Haryana between McDowell Mohun Bagan and Churchill Brothers. The Club came up triumph when they comprehensively beat the I-League champion team to lift the Cup. Mohun Bagan won 2-1. In 20th minute, James, who had a brilliant match today, crossed the ball from right flank that went straight to Bhaichung, who leaped and headed the ball in first post, the ball went out, the second post was left open by goalkeeper. In the next minute, Mohun Bagan scored the goal. Marcos took a short corner with James and the latter floated the ball inside box that Kalu tried to clear by heading the ball but the ball ballooned up and went to Manju who took a header that took a parabolic motion and went straight inside goal, Arindam had absolutely no chance to save the ball and Mariners went 1-0 up. Just before half time, Mohun Bagan conceded the goal when Vashum entered the box, dribbled past Mohanraj and took a shot that beat Shilton and went inside goal deflecting off Dipak’s leg. Dipak who otherwise had a very good game perhaps was a bit slow this time. In 62nd minute, Mohun Bagan was clearly denied a penalty when Barreto brilliantly dribbled past 2 players and when he was about to unleash a left footed shot he was clearly pulled down by Raju, but referee Suresh overlooked the incident. In 74th minute, Bhaichung ran a few paces with the ball and released a through pass but Barreto’s shot went out of target. Barreto, however, scored the winning goal in 89th minute. Mohanraj made a brilliant cross from midfield that went to Barreto who leaped well to head the ball that went into far corner of the net making it 2-1 in favor of Mohun Bagan.
Karim’s reaction after the match was, "This is a very satisfying win for us. This showed that we deserved to win I league because we met Churchill three times this season and we have beaten them twice. We came very close to winning I league and we were contenders till last round but somehow just could not manage it. Looking back, I think faltering in the first few matches and may be losing points against JCT in Ludhiana cost us the I league.
Coming back to today’s match, this was a very tactical match today. We played with a little different strategy. I knew that Odafa is a good player and my defenders covered him up nicely and did not allow him any space or turning to take a shot. One of the main mode of attack of Churchill is via their left and right back. I had given instructions to James and Ishfaq to not allow them to go up and so Churchill today mainly relied on long balls. I also knew that we had to stop Kalu as he can combine well with Odafa down the middle but Rakesh was man marking Kalu the whole match and he did his job quite well. We did not man mark Chitra but relied on zonal marking. I instructed Marcos to play as a holding midfielder and assist sometimes the defenders. This plan worked well and we also got few chances to score and we scored 2 goals. The goal that we conceded was a little unfortunate one. Overall I am very satisfied with team’s performance and the players executed my plan to perfection today. All the players did their job today.
I think Mohun Bagan fans and Kolkata football lovers can feel satisfied that out of all Kolkata teams it is Mohun Bagan who performed so well this season and was the most consistent team winning 3 trophies and finishing runners up in one. The last few years it was the Goa and Mumbai teams doing well but this time Mohun Bagan did very well and I think this is a very good sign for Kolkata football. It should be noted that we have also beaten Dempo thrice this year."
By virtue of winning the Federation Cup this year, the Club had qualified to play the AFC Cup along with Dempo Sports Club, Goa, the 2007-08 I-League winner. The Club was placed in a very tough group with the AFC Cup matches played on home and away basis. The dates for these matches were scheduled in between the I-League roster. There were four teams in each group and in their pre-tournament analysis, AFC marked this group as the toughest one. Added to this, it became very difficult for Club to concentrate on the AFC Cup as becoming the I-League champion was a distinct possibility till the final stage. Understandably, Mohun Bagan lacked the extra zeal and lost all the six matches it played. First three matches team fought very well but lost by narrow margins. In the first away match, Marcos unfortunately missed one penalty which could have changed the scoreline in Mohun Bagan’s favor. Rightly giving importance to I league, coach decided to rest few key players in their AFC Cup matches but the young players who got chance could not rise to the occasion and perform well and Mohun Bagan lost the last three matches by big margins, thus ending the season gloomily.
Mohun Bagan thus finished the season with 3 trophies, Kolkata League, Federation cup and Super Cup. Mohun Bagan came back strongly in I league but still managed to find the gap between the cup and the lips.
A photo session was held in club where all the players and staff involved with football team took a group photo with the 3 trophies won and also one individual photograph each with the trophies.
Another feather in the Club’s cap came with the grand entry of the great Diego Armando Maradona to the sacred football ground. He was there for about 20 minutes and the Club galleries were jam packed with people feasting their eyes seeing one of the greatest footballer of all times showing skills with football.
Thus, it has been a great year, one of the best seasons of not only Mohun Bagan, but of any Bengal club in recent past. Coach Karim summed up the season by saying, "I think Mohun Bagan fans and Kolkata football lovers can feel satisfied that out of all Kolkata teams it is Mohun Bagan who performed so well this season and was the most consistent team winning 3 trophies and finishing runners up in one. The last few years it was the Goa and Mumbai teams doing well but this time Mohun Bagan did very well and I think this is very good sign for Kolkata football. Also I heard this has been one of the best seasons of Mohun Bagan in past number of years. Credit goes to everybody involved with football team including all players, officials, we all worked as a unit and have got the result. It would have been extremely good, if we could have managed to win I league also, but we fought till last day and finished runners up."
REPORT: RANA BOSE AND SHILADITYA MITRA
STATISTICS: RAJAT SUBHRA BANERJEE
PICTURE: TRIDIP SHEET, SOUMYADEB SINHA, SANGBAD PRATIDIN