During a press conference at the Calcutta Sports Journalist Club, former Mohun Bagan football secretary Satyajit Chatterjee was banging the table in excitement while he was mentioning how easily he had brushed away several lucrative offers from East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting during his playing career to remain loyal to the Green and Maroon jersey.
Subrata Bhattacharya is also often heard voicing the same story after playing 17 consecutive seasons for Mohun Bagan, turning a blind eye to several financially lucrative deals that were tabled.
East Bengal's very own Tushar Rakshit played for 14 seasons between 1991-2004 in the famed Red and Gold jersey, and also holds the record of winning the Calcutta Football League (CFL) a maximum of nine times for the club.
But several summers have gone-by and with the advent of Indian Super League (ISL) we have seen players turning out for two different clubs in the same season. Indian players are getting paid handsomely and the best ones pocket a salary which is at par or even more than some of the foreign players. They are looking for avenues and employment opportunities where they can maximise their earnings, and hence loyalty to the crest has taken a backseat.
Mehtab Hossain in the press conference that followed his signing said, "I am a professional player and today you cannot expect him to play without remuneration." He also went on to add that he has been hurt by a certain section of East Bengal fans who have questioned his commitment towards the club which further pushed him to join Mohun Bagan.
East Bengal fans are rightly upset with Mehtab's decision to join Mohun Bagan as they considered Mehtab as 'one of their own' and his action is being viewed as a breach of trust by the ultras. More so, when Mehtab had promised that he plans to hang up his boots after playing two matches for East Bengal without any remuneration.
But isn't it natural for a professional player to go ahead and sign a deal which offers ₹40 lakh for his services? An athlete has a short career span and in the current circumstances, it is not surprising that a professional athlete goes on to sign for a club that has promised him a fatter pay cheque. Arnab Mondal left East Bengal this season to sign for ATK and if Mehtab hadn't signed for arch-rivals Mohun Bagan, he wouldn't have received the same amount of flak.
Yes, Mehtab's promise to East Bengal now sounds hollow and has put him in a fix, but Mehtab seems to be living by the line in the famous movie The Dark Knight Rises - "If you are good at something never do it for free."
But Mehtab's actions were also immature, when he offered to play for free in plain viewing.
Was going the extra mile worthy for Bagan?
Mehtab at 33 is a player who is at the twilight of his career. He is making a comeback from a career-threatening back injury which had ruled him out for the last six fixtures for Jamshedpur FC. Questions remain whether he can carry on for the full 90 minutes and his aggressive style of play does not help him in this regard. He is different from Cameron Watson who makes up for his lack of pace with his excellent positioning and his knack of spraying the ball around the park. Mehtab likes to go for tackles with the primary motif of destructing opposition build-ups which is strenuous and physically demanding.
While he can comfortably make a mark in CFL, replicating the same in the I-League will be hard. For Mohun Bagan, who have been reeling under debts, one needs to wonder if spending ₹40 lakh for a player whose impact might remain limited to the local league when you already have players like Yuta Kinowaki and Shilton D'Silva (D'Silva's payment doubled to ₹28 lakh this season) is feasible.
Moreover, if we carefully look at the statistics for the past three seasons we can conclude that Mehtab's performance has gone south. In 2015, Mehtab's passing accuracy in the ISL was 85.87% which has come down to 75.19% and 66.17% in the two following seasons. He tackled 69 times (13 matches) in 2015 with 28.9% of them being judged as fouls. In the following season, the number went down to 43 (16 matches) and 48.9% of them was ruled as fouls. The figures plummeted even more in 2017/18 where out of 28 tackles committed (12 matches), 25 were adjudged as impermissible challenges.
The figures show that Mehtab is certainly past his best. Kolkata Maidan has been hustling that even before the derby Mohun Bagan has gone 2-0 up in the transfer market as they have prized away first Sukhdev Singh and now Mehtab from East Bengal. Only time will tell whether conceding the second goal is a blessing in disguise for Debabrata Sarkar and Co.