I-League - Harmanjot Khabra seeks to paint Kolkata Blue from Red and Gold tinge

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The former East Bengal captain will snare all emotions as he seeks to tame a team he left behind....

'What goes around comes around.' This is one of the world's widely used idioms, applicable in a number of variegated themes. On Sunday, 22nd January, that saying will be particularly concise on the football pitch, when one of East Bengal's former captains returns to his old stomping ground.

It's been nearly two months since Harmanjot Khabra swapped the illustrious Red and Gold for the Blue of Bengaluru. Rumours abounded in the middle of 2016 of his impending departure, but nobody really believed one of the Kolkata club's mainstays would ever leave the team he'd grown synonymous with. 

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Now, into the new season with the defending I-League champions, Khabra is looking to leave an impression of an altogether different kind - one of a victorious opposition leader - in the city he once called his own. It was not always the case. 

Khabra, a Tata Football Academy (TFA) graduate, began his career in the autumn of 2006 with Sporting Clube de Goa in the I-League. After three seasons with the Flaming Oranje on the Konkan coast, Khabra's ability convinced then East Bengal gaffer Subhash Bhowmick, to sign the versatile midfielder for his team.  

For seven years the Punjab-born central midfielder was a key figure in his side's exploits on the field of play. Making over 80 league appearances for the record-shattering Calcutta Football League (CFL) champions,  the 29-year-old formed an intrinsic bond with Mehtab Hossain in midfield. Khabra's relationship with Trevor Morgan, who joined the club in 2010, blossomed as well as he was quick to establish himself as one of the cornerstones.

Albert Roca Harmanjot Khabra Bengaluru FC

However, in the final season at the Salt Lake stadium-based team, Khabra found himself increasingly sidelined by beleaguered coach Biswajit Bhattacharya. He made just seven apperances out of a possible 16, notably a clutch of just five starts. Indeed the sacking of Bhattacharya hadn't had the desired impact on him. Both the club and the player opted not to hold talks for a contract extension despite Morgan returning at the helm of affairs.

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A well-stocked trophy cabinet reveals his hunger for success and during his tenure in Kolkata the 5'11.5" professional won two Federation Cups, six CFL titles, the ISL (with Chennaiyin), the Indian Football Association's (IFA) Shield and the Super Cup. Khabra also has an Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) Cup semi-final to count amongst his continental appearances.  

The one trophy that has eluded him is the I-League. Finishing runners-up twice, the former India youth international had come close to completing a clean sweep of the Indian domestic trophy pins, however, East Bengal have never really delivered on the national league stage in the I-League era.

This is where Khabra hopes to capitalize on the Bengaluru juggernaut and clinch that long elusive title.

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The former East Bengal skipper will now gear up for a summit clash with his former brethren in some of the best form he's ever found himself in. His versatility in the squad has seen him earn tactical advantage in Albert Roca's set-up, 3-5-2, acting as a wingback. His energy is tantamount in the team's drive forward. He's already assisted two of Chekiyot Vineeth's goals in the romp over Mumbai FC. He's expected to shine again in the Blue over at the Barasat stadium in Kolkata. 

Khabra will be seen as a fantastic servant amongst the Red and Gold faithful but, in his own words, come Sunday, it'll be a matter of past versus present for Khabra, who hopes to see his present take a victory over his past. 

 

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