BY ATANU MITRA (@Atanu00 on Twitter)
The whispers were growing louder every passing week. The relationship between Sanjoy Sen and the Mohun Bagan management was strained, even though, quite obviously, none of the two parties conceded that was the case. A senior official, however, specified that ‘nothing is static’ in Kolkata football, so a change at the helm might be expected.
Sanjoy Sen had undergone a surgery during the Calcutta Football League (CFL) earlier this season and during his absence, assistant coach Shankarlal Chakraborty impressed in his cameo, even though he failed to win the silverware. After Sen returned, there was a palpable feeling among the club hierarchy that the medical condition had taken a toll on him, and a faction even held him responsible for the slip-ups of the club in the last two I-League campaigns where they had to be content with the second place.
All this meant was that in case the club falters in what was expected largely to be a two-horse I-League championship fight with arch-rivals East Bengal, Sen will be shown the door.
Against such a backdrop, Sanjoy Sen stepping down after a series of disappointing results is not at all surprising as the writing was on the wall.
What deserves a closer look is Sen’s tenure, what his legacy would be and how he lost the unconditional support that he enjoyed among the club’s faithful.
When the former defender took charge of the Mariners, it was a ship caught in a tempest, going through a six-year trophy drought. East Bengal were miles ahead during this span, making it to the AFC Cup semi-finals once and winning a couple of Federation Cups while being a front-runner for the I-League.
Sen, who had by then held no high-profile coaching positions, showed impeccable maturity in handling the dressing-room. He did not have the reputation of being a master tactician buthe delivered results. At a club like Bagan - which had suffered for the larger-than-life image of superstars during Jose Ramirez Barreto’s final few years at the club and Odafa Okolie’s whole stint - he manoeuvred a brilliant working relationship with Sony Norde, which was the main reason behind the side’s golden run in the last three seasons.
The results were for all to see. Sen went on to win the I-League in his very first season, bringing the national title back in Kolkata after 11 years and tilting the balance of the power struggle of the Maidan towards the Green and Maroon brigade. In the next season, he had to finish second best in the league but capped off the season with an emphatic Federation Cup victory.
The last season led to his undoing. Bagan had a golden chance to win the I-League, but fell short in the last lap once again, which had much to do with Sen’s failure to pull out a plan B out of his hat. A Federation Cup win would have made amends, but there also they succumbed to Bengaluru FC.
During this period, he also lost the support of the fans, who were more or less convinced that Sen would not be able to take the side to the next level and an extension of his stay meant stagnation rather than stability.
Another big pillar of support for Sen was the media. Anyone who covers news for a living definitely loves headlines and the most outspoken man of Indian football had enough spice in his words to be a favourite. He also gave journalists unlimited access to the training sessions - the opposite of which has become the latest fashion in Indian football – and would always be available to answer questions.
All that changed last season, when Sen started losing his cool in press conferences. His behaviour towards a senior photo-journalist during the last Federation Cup was probably the tipping point, but Sen was his usual self, denying to look in the mirror and shrugging off any allegation of misconduct.
So when the tide turned, Sen had to face the music alone. The Bengali media, which has a large sway over proceedings, was not kind anymore. Bartaman, a leading daily with close to 7 lakhs circulation regularly speculated whether his proximity to West Bengal’s minister of Urban Development Firhad Hakim was the reason for his contract extension, given both Swapan Sadhan (Tutu) Bose and Srinjoy Bose have been Rajya Sabha members for the Trinamool Congress party.
“Even after this, Sanjoy Sen will defend himself?” read the first line in after the Indian Arrows match. in Sangbad Pratidin – the daily owned by the Basu family which has Srinjoy as its editor.
Hence, Sen went back home on Monday similar to how he had come to Bagan practice on his first day -no baggage attached. Nobody would like to lose a job on the second day of the year, but Sen seemed unperturbed, stressing that he would enjoy spending more time with friends and family.
It remains to be seen whether the club finds it more difficult to fill the void!