A veteran of more than fifty Kolkata derbies turning out for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, Mehtab Hossain will step onto the greens of the Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri on Sunday, fearing his last taste of Indian club football's apex encounter.
Mehtab Hossain made his way up the Kolkata footballing ladder through his inspired displays as a youngster in the National Football League (NFL) for the Green and Maroons striking up partnerships with Tomba Singh and Jayanta Sen in midfield at a time where Bhaichung Bhutia and Jose Ramirez Barreto were lighting up the forward line and Eduardo Coelho stood as a rock in defence.
Interestingly, Hossain joined the Mariners from Tollygunge Agragami the year East Bengal had retained their NFL crown, three years later Mohun Bagan won their last NFL.
Mehtab has several Calcutta Football League (CFL) titles under his belt and a couple of Federation Cup medals but never won the Indian domestic league title in his career.
Before the start of the season, the midfielder shocked everybody with his announcement of leaving the Red and Golds if they fail to land the I-League in their tenth attempt.
On the eve of the reverse leg derby too, he reiterated his intent. "Every derby is important for me. Of course, life won't end for me but every player has to leave a club someday or the other. Yes, I had told that if we won't win the league, I will leave East Bengal."
"Players are scrutinised when they don't perform well and that has been the case for us after our lull following a good start to the league. If we win the I-League, I will continue here at East Bengal, else I will walk away," the East Bengal 'life-member' told the gathered scribes.
Almost teary-eyed, the 31-year-old continued, "We have been getting close to winning the league for the last seven to eight years but if I walk away and someone else gets the opportunity to win, no one else will be more happy than me. This has been my family for the last ten years."
That though, did not deter his former team's skipper Katsumi Yusa, who himself is in his fourth year donning the Mohun Bagan jersey to 'spoil' what could be Mehtab Hossain's last ever derby; contingent to East Bengal losing the race to the I-League crown.
"The derby is very important. We play big teams like Bengaluru FC too but the derby is extra special because of the fans. Siliguri, is home but it is like an away game for us," the Japanese playmaker commented.
"We need to improve our away record and goal scoring stats. Also, we need to improve near the box when it comes to the final pass and shooting", the man with armband sounded serious in his outlook towards the match.
Yusa himself might be toyed around by Sanjoy Sen as he could move in the centre of the park to accomodate Balwant Singh up top with Darryl Duffy as Under 22 player Azharuddin Mallick drops into the right-wing position as Sehnaj Singh might be dropped.