Can Mohun Bagan overcome the midseason bump to make it 2 titles in a row?

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Can Mohun Bagan overcome the midseason bump to make it 2 titles in a row?

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Apratim Halder

03/10/2016

In a recent downturn of events, Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen has been handed an enormous eight-game ban and a fine of Rs. 10 Lakhs for his ‘comments’ about the AIFF. The season which appeared almost decided when Bagan trumped Bengaluru in their fortress suddenly has been thrown wide open.

It all started when earlier last month, when asked to comment on the low recovery time between the matches against DSK Shivajians in the I-league and the Asian Champions League playoffs against Chinese Super League side Shangdong Luneng, Sen was critical of the Federation. “AIFF has to see for improvement of football. The Federation has been sold out. They have no standing now. We are going to Pune, then we go to China. I just heard that AIFF did not hear our words. This is how football is run in India. It's horrible,” lamented Sanjoy Sen. It was very much understandable that Sen was frustrated against the tough iron rule of AIFF who refused to postpone the league match. Later, DSK Shivajians agreed to prepone the match by around two hours to accommodate the recovery of Bagan players after the match and before they flew to China. AIFF being AIFF, took a no-nonsense attitude against the coach and banned him for the remainder of the I-League.

So that brings us to the question at hand, what is in store for Mohun Bagan for the rest of the season? There is not an iota of doubt in the minds of Bagan supporters that this would be a huge setback for the title-aspiring club. AIFF have been accused of being a corporate sell-out by many a conspiracy theorist, and that the federation want their “favourite” team to win. Though these may be baseless allegations against the governing body, surely the morale of the Mariners would be affected by the ban of their manager who has shown supreme tactical acumen this season to put Bagan on top of the table. An unbeaten season in I-League is a testament to Sanjoy Sen's credentials as he has been able to transform the Bagan squad into a champion side. In fact, the only loss Bagan have faced this season came against a much superior Shangdong Luneng in harsh weather conditions in China.

Meanwhile the person in charge temporarily, Mr. Shankarlal Chakrabarti is a Tata Football Academy (TFA) graduate himself, and having played as a midfielder for East Bengal not so long back, will definitely look to carry forward the good work. He has already taken charge of the club on a couple of occasions when Sen was unwell. "I am ready for it. I have not talked to Sanjoy (Sen) Da yet, but we will definitely talk later in the day," he told Goal.com. In the next few weeks, he will become the first-ever TFA graduate to give instructions from the technical area for a top-flight team in the I-League. When Sanjoy Sen was asked whether the performance of his team will be affected by his absence in the technical bench area, he said “I cannot say about the ban and whether it would be reduced but it will not affect Mohun Bagan's performance. I have trust on my support staff. I am sure that they will manage the situation with ease,” reported ZeeNews.

Mohun Bagan has had a memorable season of sorts, notching up six wins and four draws till now and are literally on a roller coaster ride. And a great part of their success, is down to Sanjoy Sen. He brought in young pacy wingers, during the pre-season break and they have really enthralled the Kolkata faithful this season. Even when the star players played, one must not forget how well this team gelled, with the Indian and foreign players blending into the style of play. Pronay Halder, a standout performer in the midfield has been a thorn for the opposition, breaking and halting the play and has been one of many excellent acquisitions. Brandon Fernandes and Kean Lewis have been two brilliant finds this season. While Brandon will be out for the remainder of the season with an ACL injury just after his maiden goal for Mohun Bagan, Kean continues to make a mark with mazy runs past defences as he did in the game versus Bengaluru FC at Bangalore.

The defence looks pretty settled at the back with Luciano Sobrosa commanding his troops at the back. Though the right back position might be a spot of concern for Bagan with both Pritam Kotal and Raju Gaikwad found wanting on several occasions, Kingshuk Debnath has been a solid performer this season. Meanwhile Debjit has been a standout goalkeeper for Bagan this season and has displaced Shilton Paul from the first team ever since the season started.

It looks like Sen is prioritising the I-League, and winning the domestic league seems to be his top priority this season. But at the same time, he wants a good run in the AFC Cup after losing in the AFC Champions League. While the ban will have no effect on the AFC Cup matches, Sen has affirmed that he would take his chances with both hands. Till now, Bagan are one of the firm favourites to qualify from their group after notching up impressive wins over Maziya, winning 5-2 at home and beating South China AA in Hong Kong by a 4-0 scoreline. It would be very interesting as the league wears on, to witness which one of the two tournaments Mohun Bagan realistically target with the available resources.

This ban could enthuse title rivals Bengaluru FC with renewed vigour. Although Bengaluru FC coach Ashley Westwood said he wished Sen wasn’t banned, he would be more hopeful about his chances against Mohun Bagan without Sen in the opposite dugout. After all, Sen’s side came out all guns blazing at Bangalore to win 0-2, and the Bengaluru FC fans would want to exact revenge in Kolkata, when these two teams meet each other next. Cross-town rivals East Bengal, on the other hand, had started the season on a high with their highest scorer Ranti Martins in unstoppable goalscoring form. But they have stuttered in the second half of the season with the latest setback coming in a 2-0 drubbing away at the hands of league entrants DSK Shivajians. Even though the ban doesn’t affect these teams directly, they would just hope that these external factors deviate Mohun Bagan from their excellent form this season.

Surely, Sen is confident of his wards who had a stellar season and are sitting at the top of the table with 22 points from 10 matches. He understands the fact that it is not the manager who delivers on the pitch but the players who carry out his instructions. The combination of Cornell Glenn and Sony Norde on the left flank and Katsumi Yusa in advanced midfield has reaped rich rewards for Bagan. Even when Glenn struggled with goals, Jeje continued his wonderful season scoring at free will and continuing his rich vein of form. With six games left, they need to continue doing just that. It could be a two-horse race in the I-League with Bengaluru FC breathing down the neck of Bagan with 22 points from 11 matches. The crucial matches to look out in the remainder of the season will definitely be the home game of Bengaluru FC with East Bengal, the Kolkata derby at Barasat stadium and the home match of Bagan against 2nd placed Bengaluru FC. Potentially these three matches will seal the title for one team. Whether it will be Mohun Bagan who have definitely been the team of the season or not, only time will tell!

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