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East Bengal form dream team
June 09, 2003 19:45 IST
East Bengal delivered a masterstroke by wresting Baichung Bhutia to complete a dream squad while arch rivals Mohun Bagan failed to cement weaker links in defence during the inter-club transfers this season.
The National Football League champions, who retained their winning combination, barring medio S Venkatesh, further consolidated their strengths by signing Debjit Ghosh and Mahesh Gawli to form the defence line of the national side along with last year's 'Player of the Year' Deepak Mondal.
With the induction of Bhutia upfront making a lethal strike-force along with Nigerian Mike Okoro, the abundance of talent in the middle and a rich reserve bench, East Bengal look too strong for any of their rivals and, in fact, capable of even taking on a Rest of India side.
In contrast, Mohun Bagan, continuing with the internal bickerings in club management, failed to cement weak links in the defence as they lost out to East Bengal in roping in Mahindra United stopper Debjit Ghosh.
The club succeeded in signing Vasco's Brazilian striker Marcos Pereira and Tollygunge Agragami's Asim Biswas to compensate the loss of Bhutia.
The star striker, who initially looked for foreign clubs in Singapore, had a salary cut this season as he was signed by East Bengal for a amount close to Rs two million, much below the offer made by Bagan last year. Bagan, however, still owe Bhutia about 50 per cent of the amount.
Tollygunge, the other local outfit to figure in the NFL, roped in famed coach Subrata Bhattacharjee to hone raw talents.
For Tollygunge, the loss of Asim Biswas -- the only Indian to have figured in the list of nine top scorers in the last edition of NFL -- will be crucial, but the club, over the years, has been labelled as the 'supply line' for Kolkata football.
Their new coach Bhattcharjee, who took over the reins after being sacked by Bagan, however, has other aces up his sleeve even with a bunch of 'discards' and youngsters like Amit Das, Sandip Das, Mehtab Hussain and foreign recruits Akeem and Isiaka.
"Tollygunge has always played aiming for escaping relegation. But this time our target will be to win the tournaments we participate in," Bhattcharjee said.
The club, which virtually 'swapped' their earlier coach Alok Mukherjee for the sacked Bagan coach, was also fortunate to get a title sponsor in DTDC for the first time.
Mohammedan Sporting, who qualified for the NFL this year as the fourth team from the city, had a tough time retaining their striking duo - Dipendu Biswas and Syed Rahim Nabi - while signing in a number of second graded players to make a decent squad within limited financial capabilities.
The drama over signing Nabi, who had made up his mind to switch over to Bagan, reminded one of the hey-days of Kolkata football as Mohammedan supporters literally kidnapped the youngster from a railway station on his way back home along with his Bengal teammates after winning the under-19 national football championship in Uttar Pradesh.
Nabi was 'freed' later that day, but only after completing the paper works at the Indian Football Association office.
Whatever be the composition of the other clubs, no other outfit had the operational problems as Bagan was facing due to the continued tussle between rival groups and a Calcutta high court order on setting up a three-member committee to run the soccer affairs of the club.
Besides, there were doubts whether the four new recruits from JCT Phagwara - Hardeep Saini, Hardip Gill, Harpreet Singh and Balkar Singh - would be successful in the slushy grounds during the monsoon.
Coach Aloke Mukherjee, who took the offer as per the advice of Indian chief coach Stephen Constantine, was not willing to put his mind into off-the-field developments.
"I have learnt a lot during my 17-month association with Constantine as the assistant coach. I will try my best to impart that into the boys," he said.
Besides players and coaches, the top Kolkata clubs are also trying to rope in physical trainers following the footsteps of East Bengal, who appointed South African expert Kevin Jackson on a month's contract to shape up the players before the upcoming international engagements in the Asean Cup and Asian Club Cup championship.
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