As Mohun Bagan is all set to begin their I-League venture from the scratch, Goal.com talks to Tolgay Ozbey, the prolific striker of the Green and Maroon....
When asked about how it feels to be allowed again to take part in the I-League action, the striker remarked, “I am personally very happy about the decision. I want to thank AIFF for their reconsideration. They have given a fair share of thought about the effects of the earlier decision. Footballers and the club would have suffered much. But the worst sufferers would have been millions of fans, who cheer for the club. The AIFF has not taken the game away from them. They have paid respect to the passion of the millions of fans and football lovers. They have taken the right decision.”
Tolgay has been sidelined due to a knee injury for most of the matches this season and the striker mentions that it has been frustrating to watch the team from the sidelines.
“You know, it is always hard for a professional footballer to sit out of the action on the field. For me it has been even longer. I have been out of the side for many months now. I just want to get back into action,” he told.
The absence of Tolgay has certainly come to hurt Bagan as they have been over dependent on Odafa Okolie for goals as the other two strikers, namely Stanley Okoroigwe and C.S. Sabeeth, have underperformed. The Mariners gave Santosh Kashyap the boot after a couple of games in the I-League and in came Karim Bencherifa. However the club’s fortunes didn’t change as injuries continued to cripple the squad and their form was lacklustre.
“We have a talented bunch of players. Many of them have played for India in the international tournaments. We do have the right balance. We only need to perform according to our potential. I understand that the team has not delivered up to the expectations. But possibly it was because of the fact that the side has taken time to adjust under the new coach (Karim Bencherifa). One must understand that improvements don’t happen overnight. Now I hope that we will bounce back well,” he opined.
Mohun Bagan will now start their campaign with 0 points from 10 matches and have 16 games to play. It is obvious that they will not be contending for the title, but Tolgay hopes that they can get a commendable finish if they perform at par with their expectation.
“Now the only target is to gather as many points as possible. We know that the task will be hard. The primary aim certainly is to avoid relegation. Let’s see how well we can perform,” he mentioned.
Though the team has not played in an I-League match since 9th December, the Australian footballer claims that the team is fully fit and conditioned. “Yes, we have been practicing regularly. Karim has taken great care of the fitness issue. The residential camp in Durgapur also helped us getting fit.”
It is the third season for the Aussie striker in India. He had played the last two seasons for East Bengal, Bagan’s arch rivals. Tolgay’s transfer saga was the talk of the transfer window that involved reciprocal mud-slinging from the officials of both sides. However, Tolgay has points to defend his decision.
“See, I am a professional footballer. I understand that the East Bengal supporters got hurt. I have played for the last couple of seasons for them and played my part in all their achievements. But then I have taken the decision to join Bagan. It is a great honour for me to play for such a big club. I respect both the clubs. But if the East Bengal officials say something behind my back, I am least interested about that.”
Mohun Bagan fans were particularly miffed with the club officials when the I-League Core Committee had imposed the two-year ban on the club in addition to them being considered withdrawn from the current season. However, according to Tolgay, the Bagan fans have been very supportive to the footballers during the hard times and have provided them with the mental support.
“The fans have been incredible. They have been supportive throughout the dark period. Whenever I had met them, they always came up with assurances that the situation will become normal again.” Mohun Bagan will kick start their I-League journey this weekend when they meet Salgaocar FC in an away tie. As skipper Odafa Okolie is suspended for the match, the responsibility of scoring will largely rely on the shoulders of Tolgay.
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