Deepak Mandal shares with us his thoughts, views on Indian team, Houghton, Mohun Bagan team and coach Kareem.
Question: What is the chance of Mohun Bagan winning I league this time?
Deepak: Yes, it is still very much possible. We have the correct combination and good team spirit. What we now require is a little luck factor regarding injury of key players. Otherwise, we still have good chance this time.
Question: As for todays match, you are being fielded as a Right Back. Do you face any problems adjusting to that?
Deepak: None at all! I have played as a Right Back for the Indian team, and at such a high level, you don’t have problems adjusting to minor changes.
Question: Deepak, congrats on winning the Kolkata league. What are your feelings?
Deepak: Thanks. Yes, this is my third year in Mohun Bagan. I am quite happy that I played a few matches in this year’s Kolkata league; Last year I could not play a single match due to injury! The last season was not smooth sailing for me, I had to remain off the field for a long time but thankfully, everything seemed to have come back in the right track at last!
Question: You missed the last match against East Bengal. Do you think the joy of the players who played in first XI in that match is same compared to players who were in reserve bench or of those who could not play due to injury?
Deepak: No, there is a little difference. Everybody is definitely happy that our team won the league by taking 1 point in last match with many key players missing out, but the satisfaction and joy of the players who played that day was definitely a little bit more than us who missed that match! I desperately wanted to play the last match but could not due to injury.
Question: Are you from Jharkhand? When did you join TFA?
Deepak: Yes I was born and brought up in Jharkhand. I joined TFA in 1995 and stayed there till 1998.
Question: Who were your batch mates?
Deepak: Mahesh Gawli, Rocky Barreto, Noel Wilson, Sheikh Sanjib, Vinu Jose, Naseem Akhtar were in my batch.
Question: Any successful tournaments you had during your TFA stay?
Deepak: Yes, we went for a training stint in Germany. We were runners up in DCM in 1997; we lost 0-2 to Mohun Bagan in finals. After this tournament, all of us in TFA got recruited by various clubs. In 1996, TFA used to take 4 junior players along with senior team to play in various tournaments. Mahesh and I were regularly fielded as juniors. We lost the Durand Final that year versus East Bengal via tie breakers but our biggest victory was against East Bengal in IFA Shield, we beat them 4-0 in the quarter finals at Siliguri.
Question: What about the quality of TFA players in Mohun Bagan this year?
Deepak: I have not played that many matches yet but as far as I have seen them, they are very talented, mature guys and always want to give more than 100%, have good physique and are very tough. With experience, these guys will be assets of Indian football.
Question: Do you want to name any particular player among them?
Deepak: Masih is very good. Henry, Lalram Luah are also very good. I have found Henry to be quite impressive during practice sessions, but it is ultimately for the coach to decide whom to field.
Question: Tell us something about your career.
Deepak: Being nourished at Tata Football Academy, I came to professional level at 1998 when I joined JCT, then I moved to East Bengal where I had most of the success, then I went to Mahindra and spending one year at Mumbai, I came to Mohun Bagan and this is my third year here.
Question: How do you rate Kareem as a coach?
Deepak: He is indeed a great coach. He always believes in team work and gives importance to every single player. He keeps his reserve bench ready and that is why you can see how well the team performed in the last match in Kolkata league when many key players were absent. He is strict when players make mistakes in practice, but again when he comes back to dressing room, he is free flowing with all of us.
Question: Which position you prefer? Left back, right back or stopper?
Deepak: I can play in all positions but I prefer to play in stopper, then right back and then left back. Since my dominant foot is not left foot, initially I had problem playing in left back but now after practice I have adjusted myself in that position. I know that since my height is not so good, I will not get chance in stopper position now as coach Houghton prefers tall players in stopper position. He is now using Anwar and Gourmangi as stopper and they are performing quite well. I have no problem in playing in left back position. I am proud to play for India and which position I play is not a big issue for me.
Question: As a part of the strategy or due to injury problem, it has been sometimes seen that often defenders have to change positions during match? Do you find any problem in that?
Deepak: No problem at all. It is true that sometimes it happens during the match that coach asks us to change positions eg. In a match in AFC cup, I was playing in left back and Surkumar was playing in right back, then Surkumar got injured and Manju replaced him and he played as left back and I went to right back position. We have to abide by the coach’s decision.
Question: You were not a part of preseason campaign organized by Mohun Bagan before Kolkata league. Do you think there will be any adjustment problems for you or Baichung?
Deepak: Not at all, we were playing for India, so we were very much in condition. Though there are few differences in tactics of the two coaches, but we are senior players, I am sure we will be able to adjust ourselves quickly.
Question: How do you rate Houghton as a coach? What is the difference you find between Houghton and Kareem?
Deepak: He is a great coach. I am very much grateful to Mr. Houghton for giving me chance after I recovered from my injury. Both are very cool and does not easily lose temper. To both of them, team work is important and not star players. I also believe that for a football team to do well, coach is the most important factor, how he builds them as a unit. I will not name the team, but this year one team has many Indian players in their team but they are still not able to perform well. Both coach Houghton and Kareem does not believe in strenuous practice sessions, both gives very less practice. This keeps us very fresh. In fact, Houghton does not stay with us. He interacts with us for only 2-3 hours in a day including team meeting, practice but he is aware of what the footballers are doing.
Question: Did you get your dues cleared from AIFF?
Deepak: Yes all my dues have been cleared, both by Mohun Bagan club and AIFF. After I recovered from my injury and joined practice, I told coach Houghton that I have not still got my dues cleared by AIFF. Houghton talked to the authorities and within days I got my money. I am very much grateful to him. I rate him highly as a person also. I have learnt a lot from him. He gave me few tips which have really helped me eg. When the opponent takes corner, where should defenders stand inside box etc.
One thing I would like to say about Mohun Bagan management. At present, compared to many clubs, management of Mohun Bagan is very good and very professional. I also liked management of Mahindra United.
Question: You missed Bayern match in Kolkata? Do you feel the match helped Indian football?
Deepak: Yes I was in Indian camp at that time. The match was definitely a good exposure of playing against great European players. Indian football will definitely become popular in Europe but this will in no way raise Indian football standards.
Question: Who is your favorite Indian coach?
Deepak: Subhash Bhowmick is my favorite Indian coach. I played few years under his coaching. I like his coaching a lot.
Question: Whom do you prefer with you in stopper?
Deepak: I have no problem in playing with anyone. I can adjust with any junior or senior players. Like this year in Mohun Bagan, I have no problem in playing with Odafe and Manju but personally I have great partnership with Mahesh Gawli. We have great understanding. We played many years together right from TFA days. By keeping my eyes closed, I can tell where Mahesh is standing in ground (laughing). We played together while in East Bengal and Mahindra. I played quite well with Jackson also.
Question: How many I leagues have you won?
Deepak: I have won 4 I leagues so far. As far as my knowledge, there are very few players who have won 4 I leagues but no player has won so far 5 I leagues.
Question: Which striker (Indian and foreigner) would you rate as a major threat to the defenders? You must be lucky that mostly Baichung and you were in the same team.
Deepak: (Laughing), Yes Baichung and I mostly played in same team. I found many Indian strikers good, sometimes I won and sometimes they scored goals. I cannot name any particular player. But amongst foreigners, I found Barreto to be the most dangerous. When I was in East Bengal, I used to man mark Barreto in many matches. I tried my best to resist him from scoring but somehow or other he used to score a goal. It is very difficult to resist him from scoring. I played against Chima, but those were the last days of his career and he was not so dangerous at that time. I also think Odafa of Churchill is a very good player and at this moment, he is one of the best strikers of I league. I also liked Okero and Junior a lot. They were my teammates in East Bengal.
Question: Which is the best team combination you played with and any personal achievement which you would like to share?
Deepak: I think the team which won ASEAN cup while I was in East Bengal was the best team. I was part of the Indian team which won LG cup but my most memorable tour was versus Jamaica in England, it was a 3-match series, I got Man of the Tournament award there.
Question: Who is your idol in English Premier league? Any favorite EPL team?
Deepak: John Terry. No, I have no favorites as such.
Question: How many goals have you scored in your career?
Deepak: (Laughing) I think only 3 goals. One goal was vs MSC when I was in EB in IFA shield match in Kalyani. Another goal I scored for Mohun Bagan in my second match. I remember, Mohun Bagan conceded 1 goal in the first match due to my fault in Kolkata league. In the second match in Barasat, Mohun Bagan was trailing by a goal and in injury time, I scored the equalizing goal, I was very satisfied after scoring the goal.
Question: This is our last question, few media are talking about the absence of Bengali footballers. What do you have to say?
Deepak: I would like to ask those media whom they run after. They always tend to run after footballers from outside Kolkata and hardly gives importance to Bengali footballers. After Kartick Kisku played well in one match in Kolkata league, media went after him but why did not they do so before. He is a very talented player and performs quite well in practice.
Thanks a lot Deepak for the interview and a best of luck for I league.
Deepak: Thank you guys.