Sankarlal Chakraborty had his task cut out at the start of the season. Mohun Bagan must stop East Bengal's juggernaut and land the Calcutta Football League (CFL) 2018 trophy which has eluded them for the past eight years.
After a 2-0 victory over Calcutta Customs on Wednesday, it was mission accomplished for the head coach. The title celebrations on the final whistle by the fans and officials demonstrated the importance of clinching the local league title after being outclassed by East Bengal for eight successive seasons.
Enroute to the championship, the team have battled not only on the pitch but also the administrative crisis that has plagued the club since the turn of the season. Credit must be given to Chakraborty who has ensured the team maintained its focus and concentrated only on matters related to football.
While winning titles remains a litmus test, the way Shankarlal Chakraborty gave opportunities to youngsters and managed to come through in the CFL has to be commended.
With the departure of several regulars from last season, the former assistant coach had to start from scratch at the beginning of this season with fresh and inexperienced faces. Stand-out performers, namely Pintu Mahata and Sankar Roy, have been fringe players for the past three seasons whereas Sourav Das had a nightmarish outing in I-League last season.
But in the ongoing CFL, all the three players have put in outstanding shifts to establish themselves as undisputed starters. Mahata showed flashes of brilliance against Tollygunge Agragami and an outstanding performance in the Kolkata derby stamped his authority as the uncontested marksman on the left flank for Mohun Bagan. His pace and agility helps him show a clean pair of heels to his opposite number and his ability to swap flanks and be equally effective are the highlights of his game.
Although Das had a shaky start to the league campaign, he has pulled up his socks after the initial round of fixtures. He played an exceptional role in neutralising Mahmoud Al Amna and has been the workhorse for the team. He looks more comfortable on the ball and his short-passing has improved under the tutelage of Chakraborty. Against Customs, he once again displayed his deftness in orchestrating play from the centre of the park.
But young shot-stopper Roy had the most daunting task ahead of him as he had to usurp skipper Shilton Paul under the sticks. The 23-year-old has always repaid the trust shown by Chakraborty and Wednesday was no exception. He came out of his lines and produced a brilliant save in the 14th minute to deny Eze Stanley from scoring the equaliser. In a previous fixture against George Telegraph, it was Roy who ensured three points for Mohun Bagan as he kept out a point-blank header from a flag-kick to preserve Mohun Bagan's slender 1-0 lead. Paul's indecisiveness at crucial moments in the league have paved the way for Roy to come back into the starting XI and he has made the most of those opportunities to move up the pecking order.
Aser Dipanda and Henry Kisekka have also forged a bright partnership in the attacking third and have contributed 16 of the 25 goals scored by Mohun Bagan. The mudcake ground of Bagan has hindered Kisekka from realising his full potential but we witnessed glimpses of his expertise on a sleek Yuva Bharati Krirangan pitch when he took Jhonny Acosta for a ride during a one-on-one situation.
But a lack of plan B might hurt the Kolkata giants on the national stage when they take on mightier and more well-drilled opponents in I-League. It is an open secret that Chakraborty is over-reliant on his wingers and full-backs to create opportunities in the attacking third. The lion's share of goals have been scored using this tactic but his men have looked a fish out of water whenever they are stifled on the flanks. Even low-key teams Peerless SC and George Telegraph frustrated the Mariners by bottling them up in midfield with lesser space to run down the touchline.
Moreover, a lack of creativity in midfield will land them into trouble against gritty defences which like to park the bus. Although Sourav Das have shown signs of promise, it remains to be seen whether the youngster can maintain his high standards in I-League as well.