Khalid Jamil banged his head in frustration.
It was a humid March afternoon in Kolkata almost 18 months ago, where Jamil's Mumbai FC were fighting tooth and nail to keep a prolific Mohun Bagan forward line at bay. That was working to some extent only before Katsumi Yusa took advantage of a defensive mistake of the away side and broke the deadlock, five minutes after coming on as a substitute.
The celebration that followed was frantic. It was not a usual day in the office for Yusa and he showed no qualms about hiding his displeasure after being left on the bench for the first time in his Bagan career. In the last five I-League seasons, he has started 81 of 83 matches, coming on as a substitute in the other two. Jamil had little option but to be outraged about Mumbai defenders but his admiration for the opponent midfielder went up by several notches and finally culminated in the Red and Golds capturing Katsumi for the season ahead.
A shy individual, who has always loved to live under the shadows of stars like Odafa Okolie and Sony Norde, Yusa has been one of the most underappreciated foreigners in Indian football for last half a decade. However, commitment remains his biggest quality, as was seen during the stint at the Green and Maroon tent. At the club, the former ONGC player was one of the major linkages of the seven year period where they won no major trophy and the three following years where they arguably played the most eye-catching brand of football in the country.
Winning silverwares is not new for the winger who, back in 2008, was a part of the J2 league winning side Sanfrecce Hiroshima - a team that garnered 100 points from 42 matches, 22 points more than the second-placed side. In India, he had an average outing with ONGC for the first two and a half years but hit the ground running for the Mariners and made some definitive changes to his playing style. The early days saw him spend more time on the ball and try creating goal-mouth action himself mainly due to the lack of quality strikers in the Oilmen's squad. However, in Kolkata, he happily gave up his favourite position of the number 10 and shifted between the right flank and the central midfield.
Off the field, he was equally impressive. Given the absence of necessary infrastructure at the Mohun Bagan tent, he chose to join the gymnasium of a renowned five-star hotel, setting off a trend that many of his teammates would follow in the coming days. A leader in the dressing-room, his loyalty for the Green and Maroons came to the fore in the summer of 2015 when he denied parting ways with the club during acute financial constraint, even though he had tied the knot only weeks ago.
All these are good news for the other big club of the Maidan, who have had a tough time in recent years in demanding discipline from their foreigners. The short stints of Leo Bartos, Milan Susak, Bernard Mendy and Willis Plaza have all been marked by surprising nonchalance to the club's cause, at times aided by the management's failure to nip dressing-room issues in the bud.
It is worth remembering that this is not the first time East Bengal have made an approach for the Japanese. In the summer of 2013, they had first courted the ONGC star but finally chose to inflate his price to hurt Bagan's cause and instead went for a safer bet in the form of Ryuji Sueoka to fill their Asian quota. That ploy, though, worked in the neighbour's favour in the long-term.
Scoring against East Bengal wasn’t foreign to him, something he demonstrated on January 8, 2013, when his solo effort in ONGC colours sank East Bengal in New Delhi. He scored another late goal against his new team in January 2014, which turned out to be the solitary strike in Mohun Bagan’s inconsequential 1-0 win in the Calcutta Football League (CFL).
“Yes, it has been the highlight of my Mohun Bagan career till date. It was the perfect goal for me,” he had told Goal earlier a year back.
In the I-League, it will be interesting to see whether Katsumi is handed a role just behind the strikers akin to that of Penn Orji, given Mahmoud Al Amna will marshal the central midfield. It's a good news for the club faithful that the Japanese will not be taking part in the local league, a welcome break after playing close to 40 matches on the trot for the last three seasons. But as much as the club wants him to excel on the field, they will be eager to have what their foreign contingent lacked in the last few years - commitment.