The dark hours are not yet over for Mohun Bagan and more importantly, there is no silver lining. The prospect of yet another trophyless season beckons for the Mariners, who have bowed out of the IFA Shield and realistically speaking have next to no chance of winning the I-League.
Amidst the inconsistent performances by the Green and Maroon brigade, the officials running the club have shown commendable consistency in messing up in the transfer market.
Once again the matter was not in the hands of the coach. Players like Rino Anto, Shylo Malswamtulanga, Vinay Singh, Manish Maithani and Snehashish Chakraborty were amongst those roped in or retained under the discretion of Karim Bencherifa.
However following his departure at the end of last season and Debasis Dutta’s decision to not be involved in the transfers, a few officials chose to release the above mentioned players and made some new signings such as Adil Khan, Anthony Pereira and Ravinder Singh to name a few who never acclimatized to the club and hence were later released.
“More than one selector leads to compromise, and no football team was ever built on that,” Vittorio Pozzo, the Italian coach who guided his team to victory in the 1934 and 1938 FIFA World Cups had famously remarked.
This quote, which has become an adage, has been conveniently ignored by Bagan officials.
Bagan have been spending a chunk of their budget on a marquee signing’s wages and the rest of the side is built around him. The ploy seemed to work when the said player is fit and blazed all guns but an injury or two would prove to be detrimental to the team’s campaign.
Odafa Okolie has failed to recover from his nagging injuries and has featured in less than half of the fixtures.
Odafa Okolie: Lurching from boom to bust
It must be noted that Armando Colaco, the most successful coach in the I-League in his time at Dempo SC, had the luxury of choosing and signing players as per the team’s requirement. Bencherifa too enjoyed a similar freedom at Salgaocar FC where he led them to win the league and the Federation Cup.
However to expect a similar model at Bagan is next to impossible.
The only big club that has followed a model similar to that of Bagan and has taken home silverwares regularly in the recent past is Olympique Lyon. Their seven consecutive League 1 titles from 2001-02 to 2007-08 came under the tutelage of four different coaches – Jacques Santini, Paul Le Guen, Gerard Houllier, and Alain Perrin. Jean-Michel Aulas, the chairman of Lyon takes the transfer decisions without much involvement of the coaches.
He has helped the club reach unprecedented glory, starting from the second division. However, he has a strong advisory council headed by the legendary Lyon and France striker Bernard Lacombe, who helps him have an insight into the tactical side of the game.
But even this ploy will fail to earn dividends in Mohun Bagan, as the officials will then inevitably turn to Subrata Bhattacharya, who in the recent times has abused Bencherifa on more than one occasion in an attempt to regain his lost chair.
A fact that never comes to the fore is that Mohun Bagan boasts of one of the best academies in the country. However, unprofessionalism and lack of foresight in part of the management have made sure that the century old Kolkata club has rarely been able to reap the harvest of the investment they have made on their youth products in the past. According to Debashis, they have six players from their academy in the squad this term – on the insistence of coach Bencherifa.
While there have been talks of Bencherifa and Bagan parting ways at the end of the season, it will be the biggest mistake the management can make, as it will not only halt the building process of the squad abruptly but will bring things back to square one.
Though the Bagan squad still lacks cohesion in their game, the grit shown by the young members of the team has earned them plaudits.
At this crucial juncture, Bencherifa looks to be the safest bet as he will bring all the necessary experience on the table to prove his worth as the country’s highest paid gaffer. According to sources close to Goal, the Bagan officials are already busy discussing the transfer plans without keeping the coach in the loop.
But for him to devise a strategy, he needs to be given a free hand or at least be consulted to choose the right players in his quest to bring back the glory days for Bagan. Unless this is done, it will be another humiliating season for the Green and Maroon brigade who have not won a major silverware since their Calcutta Football League triumph in 2010.
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