With a game to go before this I-League season wraps up, Dempo SC have wrapped up their third I-League title in 5 years, as they held on for a point against East Bengal, who were their last remaining challengers in the title race, meaning that for yet another season, the league trophy continues to elude the big spending Kolkatan outfits.
In a season when Mohun Bagan splurged out on several new signings, East Bengal consolidated their formidable squad and Churchill Brothers bought a new set of foreigners into their team, what is the reason that Dempo, who didn’t really set the transfer market on fire last summer apart from acquiring Densill Theobald only in January 2012 to fill the void left by Beto, have come up trumps in this season’s title tussle, and that too quite comfortably?
Firstly we must have a look at the consistency shown by Armando Colaco’s side throughout the campaign, who apart from a minor blip mid-way through the season, have shown remarkable consistency to stay perched at the top of the table.
The Bonding In The Dempo Camp Was Clear For All To See....
This I-League triumph is a big vindication to Dempo’s policy of not going for major changes in the squad unlike their rivals last summer. Most of their Indian players have been with the team for several years now and Densill Theobald and Koko Sakibo added an edge to the Goan side’s play in the final third. Such minor tweaking meant that most of the team was on the same wavelength since the very start of the season and hence they enjoyed a stupendous start to their campaign.
Though they suffered from a loss of form after losing to Churchill, Densill’s entry into the fray helped calm their nerves and from thereon it was smooth sailing for Colaco’s side.
While Dempo’s consistency must be lauded, will the Goan side’s title rivals be satisfied with their own attempts at pursuing the Whites in the title race?
For example, where did their fellow Goan side Churchill disappear after a solid start to the season?
The fact is, the Red Machines and the rest of the pack have very much hit themselves firmly on the foot with an axe at various times through the season.
Churchill continued with their hire them and fire them policy, as another manager, this time the Portuguese Manuel Gomes, bought in amidst much fanfare, got a pink slip even when his side were very much in the title race.
Churchill Lost Their Way Midway Through The Season...
Infact to any casual observer, it was obvious that Gomes was being undermined for weeks before his sacking, and what could have proven to be a golden year for Churchill ended up as yet another season marked with failure.
Trevor Morgan too seemed on his way out at one point of time, when a loss in the Calcutta League to Mohun Bagan triggered a massive fan backlash. What followed was yet another uncertain period, from which the Red and Gold took time to recover, and it was only after Morgan’s future once again was assured that the Kolkatan outfit roared back into form, but by then it was too late.
However East Bengal have the small consolation of finishing ahead of their biggest rival Mohun Bagan, who yet again pressed the self destruct button, by focusing more on individuals than on a team. Steve Darby, a popular coach in South-East Asia, was bought and then dumped after a poor Federation Cup showing, where it was abundantly clear that the whole squad was nowhere close to being fit enough for a tournament of that level.
While Odafa Okolie has lead the line well, the support cast of Sunil Chhetri and Jose Ramires Barreto have been uninspiring, while Anwar Ali and Kingkshuk Debnath have gone from being a mediocre pair of defenders to a pure laughing stock through the season. Some poor foreign recruits and a lack of cohesive tactics have seen the Mariners finish well off the pace and with a lot of rebuilding to be done before next year.
Pune FC Could Well Prove To Be The Biggest Threat To Dempo's Title Hopes Next Season...
Pune FC must be spared a thought too. The Red Lizards currently sit second on the table and have been tremendous value for the position. A title charge was perhaps a season too soon for them, but under Derrick Pereira’s guidance and the stability seen throughout the club, one would not bet against them being Dempo’s biggest rivals next season.
Salgaocar SC, the defending champions, won the Federation Cup but the drama involving their coach Karim Bencherifa being linked to the national coach's job didn't help and for that you have got to blame the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) poor handling of the affair. They never really got going after that and it took a while for them to get started and by the time they did, it was a tad too late.
However as this season comes to a close, Dempo, and to an extent Pune FC have shown that consistency through the season which is vital for achieving your aims.
Dempo and their long-term association with Armando Colaco as well as the stability within the squad proves that the adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, is very much true, especially in the world of Indian football.
East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Churchill would do well to take note of it, before they start making plans for this summer.
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