The Mariners did not have the best start to the I-League season under coach Santhosh Kashyap who ultimately resigned after there were calls for him to be sacked following Bagan's poor results. Bencherifa, who was at the helm at Salgaocar FC, was announced as the new coach of the Kolkatan side, but due to a clause in his contract, could only take over from 18th November.
Bagan's form under interim coach Mridul Bannerjee has been good, with the club rising to fifth spot, mainly thanks to the heroics of Nigerian striker Odafa Okolie, with whom Bencherifa reportedly shared a 'frosty' relationship during his earlier stint with the Mariners.
Bencherifa however attributed his rise as a reputed coach in India to the Nigerian hitman. "During my stint with Churchill Brothers (2006-08), Odafa was one of the key members of the side. We shared a good rapport and our parternship was crucial to the team's success," said the Moroccan in a packed media conference in Kolkata.
"The relationship was fruitful for both of us. He blossomed under my coaching and became the top-scorer in the I-League for two consecutive seasons. I have also gained from his goal-poaching skills. In India, whatever I'm today is because of him and I thank him for that," Bencherifa added.
"As I start my preparations at the helm of Mohun Bagan again, I'm looking forward to contuining the fruitful partnership with Odafa. To be frank I actually have two dreams. At the end of the I-League, I want to see Odafa as the top-scorer and I also want the team to win the title," revealed the Moroccan.
Bencherifa's earlier stint with Bagan was a successful one where they won the Federation Cup and finished runners-up in the 2008-09 I-League. The club has gone trophy-less since the time he first left.
|Bencherifa left Salgaocar to take over at Mohun Bagan.|
Bencherifa's first few games in charge of the Mariners are all tricky affairs. The Kolkatan side will be facing a resurgent Mumbai FC at Pune followed by a trip to Goa to take on defending champions Dempo SC. The Mariners will return to Pune to play Pune FC on December 2 and head back to Kolkata to take on East Bengal in what is widely regarded as one of the most intense derby matches in the world.
The 44-year old coach has to ensure that Bagan garner atleast 8-10 points from these four matches in order to stay in the race for the I-League title. "Yes, it is easier to manage a team that has a winning momentum. But there will be no easy matches as any team can beat any other team," warned Karim.
The former Salgaocar and Churchill Brothers coach however was optimistic of his side's chances of winning the I-League despite Mohun Bagan's slow start to the season. "If you look at the table, Bagan have everything to play for. The past few seasons have seen the title being decided in the last round and even on goal difference. I know because I was involved in most of them. It is still in our hands. We have the players, the potential and the backing of the crowd. It is easier to motivate Mohun Bagan players than Salgaocar," stressed the coach.
"I'm aware of my responsbilities. We have garnered 10 points from the last four matches. And I want to build on that success. We are now four points behind the leaders. It is not a big gap and we are confident of making progress in the league table," said the Moroccan.
Bencherifa also revealed that he was in touch with marquee signing Tolgay Ozbey who's currently in Australia recovering from his injury and that the striker would be given all the time he needs to make a full recovery.
The coach also took time to thank the Mohun Bagan's fans who he felt supported him even when he was away from the club. "They always cheered me, always loved me and now it's my responsibility and that of the team to give them football's most important trophy," signed off Bencherifa.
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