How a victory for Mohun Bagan over East Bengal in this weekend's Kolkata Derby can help Bencherifa's cause in his second stint as Mariners coach...
The Moroccan has experienced the euphoria of winning a derby with Mohun Bagan when he oversaw the Mariners' 5-3 defeat of the Red and Golds in 2009
Ironically, the hero of that famous win, Nigerian striker Edeh Chidi, who currently plays for East Bengal, wrote himself into the history books by scoring four goals to condem his current side to a resounding defeat.
Karim Bencherifa then departed to Salgaocar FC in Goa where he helped them win the 2010-11 I-League and also brought home a Federation Cup by beating East Bengal 3-1 in the final. When Mohun Bagan had a Federation Cup campaign to forget and a disastrous start to the I-League in 2012, the Bagan management dismissed then manager Santosh Kashyap. Rumours spread around the Indian football circles that the Mariners hierarchy were hoping to lure Bencherifa to the Bagan hotseat once again.
After a few days of tug and war, Bencherifa confirmed his desire to take up the vacant managers post at Mohun Bagan by resigning from Salgaocar FC.
|Bencherifa left Salgaocar on bitter terms to take up the Bagan manager's post|
The Moroccan did not depart the Goan club in the best of terms and the pressure was on him to get Mohun Bagan clicking again, especially since their rivals East Bengal were on top of the I-League under British coach Trevor Morgan. Interim coach Mridul Bannerjee led the Mariners to a hat-trick of wins before Bencherifa took over the reins.
However Bencherifa's record in his second stint at Kolkata does not make for good reading. With three games played, which included a 3-0 defeat to Dempo SC sandwiched between two draws against Mumbai FC and Pune FC, the former Salgaocar coach is well aware that improvement is well and truly due. In all of these games, the Mariners looked laboured in their play and were rescued thanks to some heroics from their striker Odafa Okolie, who had allegedly enjoyed a frosty relationship with Bencherifa at Churchill Brothers.
What has also hampered the Moroccan's stuttering start with Mohun Bagan is the injuries suffered to key players in the Bagan roster. Syed Rahim Nabi, Nirmal Chettri and Jewel Raja are vital cogs in the Mariners lineup and when the trio suffered muscle injuries all at the same time, Bencherifa's plans took a major beating.
What has been a positive about Karim's tenure so far is that he has not ruled out his side from competing for the I-League title. Ludicrous as this notion may seem to many around India, the fact that the coach has confidence in the ability of the players to get back on to their feet, despite a slow start to the season, is nothing but a confidence booster to fans, players and the Mohun Bagan hierarchy.
But Mohun Bagan fans still keep the faith in Bencherifa and remind themselves that he was the architect of that victory over East Bengal in 2009. It is in such matches, that have the intensity and passion like the Kolkata derby, where a coach's acumen is tested to the hilt. Bencherifa showed plenty of that in the 2009 when he boldly substituted goalkeeper Shilton Paul for Sangram Mukherjee and that decision was instrumental in Bagan's win. Also it must be remembered that he handed debut in a game of such magnitude to Manish Maithani.
A Mohun Bagan fan may not be too fussed if their side did not win the I-League this season under Bencherifa. But what will truly matter is whether the Moroccan can outsmart his counterpart Trevor Morgan and set the ball rolling in Mohun Bagan's path to recovery. A derby victory will help raise some much needed confidence in the minds of the Bagan players, fans and coach alike that their club can perform when it matters.
Also a derby win will help Bencherifa psychologically, who has been blamed for his acrimonious departure from Salgaocar, by proving that he had indeed made the right choice to switch to Mohun Bagan.
Manchester City's famous 6-1 hammering of Manchester United at Old Trafford is an example of how one game can change the mentality of fans and players. Manchester City were running away with the league then by hammering opponents into submission preceeding the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford. People all around England were labelling them as a team that could not win against the Premier League's top clubs. All such talk was dispelled as City showed the world an exhibition in attacking football against the Red Devils and thereby convinced the English fans that they were in the big league now.
If Karim Bencherifa can rekindle the spirit of 2009 amongst his players and should that result in a win for the Mariners, the fans, players, coach and the Mohun Bagan hierarchy will be confident of a brighter future for the club.
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