The relationship between Odafa Okolie and Bencherifa wasn't without friction during their stint together at Churchill. Can the duo keep aside past differences for the club's sake?
It is now only a matter of time before Karim Bencherifa takes over the Mariners top job, after the coach handed in his resignation at Salgaocar FC. 28 days to be exact!
Several neutral observers have opined that leaving the relative security and status he enjoys at Salgaocar for the trigger happy hotseat at Mohun Bagan is not exactly a wise move by the Moroccan.
However it is easy to see why Bencherifa has taken over the job. The task to restore one of India’s most successful clubs back to their former glory must appeal to the coach.
While the Mariners themselves have been a very trigger happy club when it comes to managers, the financial commitment they have made to bring the former Churchill Brothers manager back to Kolkata, means that he will be given far more of a chance to set things right. Also the fans will remember that the closest they came to winning the league was during the Moroccan’s previous spell, in which they finished second.
Bencherifa had won three trophies apart from finishing second in the I-League in his first season at the club during his previous stint. However two lost finals in his second year, combined with two straight losses in the league mid-way through the season was enough for the Kolkatan outfit to hand him his pink slip. The club back then were only 6 points behind league leaders Dempo SC and have never come close enough to winning the league ever since.
Back in familiar surroundings...
Needless to say, the Moroccan will be afforded more patience this time round, however the coach himself will be in a better shape to deal with the pressure that comes with the job, having enjoyed a great stint with Salgaocar FC.
The coach himself will be looking to learn from past mistakes, and it remains to be seen how the most expensive coach in the Indian circuit settles in with the most expensive player in the league – Odafa Okolie.
The two have a previous history, with Odafa Okolie having burst on to the scene with Churchill Brothers, who at that time had Bencherifa at the helm. Odafa had flopped in his first stint in Indian football with Mohammedan Sporting and it was under Bencherifa he flourished the most. However all was not well between the duo, with the coach reportedly exasperated with the Nigerian’s lack of focus during fitness drills. To add further to the tension, Odafa reportedly tried to pressurize Bencherifa into drafting in a foreign striker of his choice - Felix Chimaokwu, which the club owner succumbed to.
Infact rumours had suggested around the Goan corridors that the Moroccan had resigned from his position since Churchill Brothers refused to relent to his choice and preferred that of Odafa. So no prizes for guessing who won that particular duel.
Now with Mohun Bagan in such dire straits, it is important that the entire club, players and staff, push in the same direction. A row between the coach and their talismanic striker will be of no use to anyone.
Hopefully Odafa settled his differences with the coach after leaving Goa for a Kolkatan adventure...
It remains to be seen if Odafa, after so many years of having his way around, will bend to the demands of the Moroccan, who has always kept faith in his own philosophy.
Bencherifa will hope to have Mohun Bagan play in the same attacking, movement based style that saw Salgaocar FC enjoy so much success under him.
With players required to apply pressure on the opposition off the ball, while running into channels and providing options to the midfield when in possession, the system demands optimum fitness levels from the players. The Kolkatan outfit’s players have looked far from fit in their games so far, and hence it shall be a huge task for the former Churchill Brothers coach to get them into shape.
Odafa's behaviour has been far from perfect given that he has involved in another training ground altercation with Manish Maithani for apparently not passing the ball to him when the former was in a goal scoring position! Bencherifa would have to keep discipline in the squad as often teams such as Mohun Bagan suffer from favouritism towards their star players.
It also remains to be seen whether the Nigerian would mend his ways in accordance to the tactics of Bencherifa, with work-rate not really being his strong point. With the club committing big money on both, the player and their new coach, it would be interesting to see who would prevail in an ego clash between the two, if any.
One thing though is for sure that the club cannot afford another melodrama concerning either a coach or players, having had plenty of both over the summer.
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