Santanu Mitra: 2016-17 was not a very successful year for Mohun Bagan as the team ended being runners-up in both I league and Federation Cup. But that was not the concern when the team building for 2017-18 season started. A bigger challenge was lurking in front of not only Mohun Bagan but all the I-league clubs, the Indian Super League (ISL). As a result of which Mohun Bagan witnessed as many as 19 departures from the team of the previous season. Arguably the side which boasted of having the most balanced and quality side was affected the most. Thus as the team building started there was lot of pressure not only on the officials but the new players as well because of the constant comparison of the newcomers with the ones who donned the Green and Maroon Jersey last season.
Mohun Bagan roped in Kamo Stephane Bayi, Ghanefo Ansumana Kromah and Eze Kingsley as overseas players and Indian players like Chesterpaul Lyngdoh, Shilton D’Silva, Rohit Mirza, Nikhil Kadam, Israil Gurung for the Calcutta Football League. The preparations started under the supervision of Shankarlal Chakraborty the man who had been the coach of the side for the last three years. Under Shankarlal, Mohun Bagan exhibited attacking and free-flowing football which saw them winning seven of the first eight matches scoring 20 goals and conceding only 5. At the same time their arch-rivals East Bengal also recorded seven victories from their first eight matches. The title decider was set up in the most dramatic fashion, the ever charismatic Calcutta Derby. Mohun Bagan took the lead through a horrible own goal by East Bengal defender Mitchell, which was deflected in off an attempt to clear away Azharuddin Mollick’s cross-shot. East Bengal hit back with a well-rehearsed free-kick as Laldanmawia Ralte scored for the Red and Golds. Thereafter, Mohun Bagan was awarded a penalty, which Kromah scored to put them ahead for the second time. East Bengal was also awarded a controversial penalty to which Al Amna rose to the occasion by making It 2-2. Thus the Green and Maroon Brigade failed to end the hegemony of East Bengal who won the title for the record 39 times and consecutive 8 years by virtue of better goal difference and very ordinary and controversial refereeing in the league deciding derby.
At this juncture, Mohun Bagan made some very quality inclusions in the squad ahead of I league by recruiting the likes of SK Faiyaz, Dipendu Dowary, defender Rana Gharami and goalkeeper Shankar Roy who had impressed the pundits with their stellar performances in the CFL. Dipanda Dicka, top scorer of previous edition I-league and CFL, Yuta Kinowaki, the former Lajong Central midfielder and Australian Diogo Ferreira also joined the club. Mohun Bagan decided to participate in Sikkim Gold Cup as a part of their preparation for the forthcoming I League. Mohun Bagan went all the way to win the first silverware of the season by defeating the likes of Tibetan NSA, ONGC and the Calcutta Customs in the finale. This trophy was very important for the Mariners as this provided a very ample platform for the new players to get accustomed to the team’s style of play.
Mohun Bagan got its biggest boost in the form of the Haitian Magician and the Captain of the side, Sony Norde as he joined the side ahead of I-league. The old warhorse Sanjay Sen took charge of the side with Shankarlal as his trusted deputy. Mohun Bagan started the season with a 1-1 draw away from home against Minerva Punjab as the team geared for facing its arch rivals second time in the season. Mohun Bagan convincingly defeated East Bengal 1-0 by a goal from defender Eze Kingsley who along with Yuta, Sony and Arijit had a superb match. Bagan went on with their superb form as they bamboozled Churchill Brothers 5-0. But key players like Sony Norde and Yuta Kinowaki got injured which saw some very serious repercussions. Yuta Kinowaki, with a shoulder injury, was out for a month. Mohun Bagan who started their campaign superbly went on to downhill from here one as they drew their next three matches against Neroca FC, Shillong Lajong and even the Indian Arrows, the football federation’s young developmental side. Technical Director Sanjoy Sen was under tremendous pressure as his tactics were under the radar. He was severely criticised for tactical inflexibility. His substitutions too rarely altered the flow of the game. Even his foreign player selection over the years were questionable. Diogo Ferreira, the Australian central defensive midfielder has to be released without even playing a match. Former Bengaluru Fc player Cameron Watson was brought as a replacement. But Bagan’s woes continued as they lost 1-2 to Chennai city Fc at their home ground putting an end to 32 match unbeaten streak at home. Sanjoy Sen immediately resigned from his post after the match.
Shankarlal Chakraborty, the Bagan coach for the last three years and the man who had taken the responsibility of the side in CFL in two occasions was now in charge of the team. Obviously, it was a pressure situation as the team had dropped as much as 11 points already in seven matches out of which 9 points were dropped in home. Bagan’s away record over last three years was dismal as well with only seven away victories in last 27 outings. Even team was missing the service of its captain and most valued player Sony Norde. It was challenging times for Shankarlal. But, Bagan did bounce back with a 2-0 victory over Aizwal FC. The Mariners however didn’t show consistency as the team again suffered a 1-2 loss vs Minerva Punjab with Kromah missing from spot kick. Eventually Kromah had to be released due to his poor performance and Akram Moghrabi, the former Churchill player was brought in as a replacement just before the derby.
“Calcutta Derby” is a different ball game and it is usually a mistake to pick a favourite before the game. East Bengal was picked as favourites before the match by experts, however, Mohun Bagan put up a stellar performance as a brace from Dipanda Dika saw the Mariners went past their arch-rivals. At this point, Bagan Captain Sony Norde decided to quit the mariners due to his injuries which compelled him to leave the Bagan dressing room mid-season. The supporters bid an emotional farewell to the Haitian magician.
In the next match Bagan shared points with Aizwal Fc and won 3-0 against Shillong Lajong away from home in their next two outings. Bagan again had a purple patch as they dropped points vs Chennai and lost against the likes of Gokulam Fc. Thus, the chances of winning the I-league became bleak at that moment only. However the Green and Maroon brigade made a steady comeback by a hat-trick of wins versus Neroca, Arrows and Churchill. Bagan shared points with Gokulam Fc in their last match as the finished third with thirty-one points four points behind the champions Minerva Fc.
Mohun Bagan qualified for the Super Cup quarter-finals by virtue of their position in the I-league. They went all the way to the Semi Final of the tournament as they defeated Churchill 2-1 and Shillong Lajong 3-1 in round sixteen and quarter finals respectively. An exciting semifinal encounter was set up between Bengalru FC and Mohun Bagan, as the old rivals met first time in the season. Mohun Bagan suffered an embarrassing 2-4 loss versus Roca’s side as they put an end to their season. Bagan took the lead just before the half-time and 10menn Bengaluru went on to put the ball four times past the Bagan net before Dipanda scored another one in the dying minutes of the match.
Mohun Bagan’s entire season was a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs. First losing key members of the team to ISL and then missing players like Sony Norde and Yuta Kinowaki throughout most of the season was a big problem for the mariners. Dropping lot of points in home saw them missing the I-league once again. Foreign players selection was again not very impressive as players like Kamo, Kromah , Diogo and Bimal had to be replaced mid-season. Mohun Bagan missed the services of their former physical trainer Garcia immensely as the team lacked the fitness that they had shown in the previous season. Indian recruits at some positions were questionable as well. But, despite all this Mohun Bagan had some positives from the season as well. Players like Nikhil, Arijit, Ricky and Faiyaz showed tremendous potential in Mohun Bagan Jersey. Old war horse Shilton Pal popularly known as the “Baaj pakhi “had an outstanding season as he was adjusted the best goalkeeper of the I-league. Bagan’s away performance was outstanding as they didn’t lose any of their I-league matches away from home. Also commendable was the attacking style of play that was instigated by Shankarlal Chkaraborty, who promises to be one of the best coaches in the circuit for the time to come.