BY SWAPNANEEL PARASAR (@Swapyo on Twitter)
Whether Sony Norde will be able to match Subrata Bhattacharya's enviable club record will be something to look forward to but one thing is for sure - he has largely been anonymous in the red letter fixture so far.
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To put in no small way, in three Kolkata Derby appearances for Mohun Bagan, the Haitian has recorded only one assist against East Bengal. Signing for the Mariners in 2014, the Haitian was instrumental in landing the first I-League trophy for Bagan. The likes of Chima Okorie and Jose Ramirez Barreto - both maidan legends - have etched their names into Bagan folklore after scintillating displays in the Kolkata derby. But in the two matches which matter the most for Mohun Bagan supporters in the I-League - versus East Bengal - the real Sony Norde did not stand up.
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Riding high on confidence, thanks to a goalscoring debut for Mohun Bagan, Norde's form and usual bag of trickery went right out of the window when he started in his first-ever Kolkata Derby. Abhishek Das and Milan Susak combined to force Norde off the ball and away from the box - keeping him a quiet spectator as the game ended 1-1.
An unbeaten Mohun Bagan were looking like serious title contenders and the perfect way to boost up their title hopes was a win against The Red and Golds. That is exactly what happened in the reverse leg of the famed derby that year.
However, it was Balwant Singh's solitary goal and Debjit Majumder's heroics with the glove that won the game for the club. If it was Abhishek Das last time, the responsibility to keep Sony Norde quiet was entrusted with long-timer Harmanjot Singh Khabra, who filled in as right-back for this game. Not a single shot on target was registered by the Haitian who failed his big derby test for a second time.
Combined XI - East Bengal and Mohun Bagan
Kolkatans naturally went crazy for the first derby of the 2015/16 season as it was to be the last I-League game at the Salt Lake Stadium before it closed its doors to undergo renovation for the 2017 FIFA Under 17 World Cup. That day, 23rd January 2016, was special for the Bengali football fans. Bengalis all over the world celebrated Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's birth anniversary and it was capped off with the Bangal versus Ghoti rivalry in the evening.
However, it was third-time lucky for Norde. Drafted straight into the starting lineup after re-signing, Norde made life terrible for East Bengal defenders Rahul Bheke and Arnab Mondal. Trailing one-nil with thirteen minutes to go, his angled free-kick from range ended up inside the net, courtesy a powerful header from Cornell Glen, with all headlines carrying the Trinidadians name.
Though he had finally produced a telling contribution in the derby, Norde was not available for the return leg in Siliguri on 2nd April 2016, having arrived late from international duty along with niggles.
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He has won an I-League title, a Federation Cup winners medal and a golden ball with Mohun Bagan. But why hasn't he lived up to the billing in the derbies?
The encumbering reliance on Norde has made him a demigod amongst the fans and that takes its toll. He becomes the softest target for the East Bengal right-back to mark and almost becoming a shadow, tying him up to strict spaces.
Is that any good for the Mariners? It possibly could pave the way for the other attackers to use more of the space left empty. Imagine Rahul Bheke and Ivan Bukenya concentrate on keeping hold of Norde while Darryl Duffy and Jeje Lalpekhlua come up good. That is what football is - a team game.
This Sunday, 12th February 2017, the stage is all set to fill the big void in Sony's glittering career on Indian soil. But fans will demand the 'little extra' on derby day and in his fourth attempt, everyone except the East Bengal fans would like to see a bit of Norde magic translating into goals.
As Norde himself said, "I want to win the title but we have to win the derby for the fans", it is time for the current Bagan no.16 to step up in the Kolkata Derby - for the fans.