Defensive improvement…

Defensive improvement…

Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa’s approach to the I-League is not very complicated. “You got to win almost all your home matches and soft away matches...

Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa’s approach to the I-League is not very complicated. “You got to win almost all your home matches and soft away matches. Against the title contenders,draws are welcome in their lairs,” he says.

The enormity of the I-League season can be tough to swallow at times and maybe it is better to divide the

26-game schedule into six or seven-game chunks and set targets for each of them. It could be tough for the players to maintain focus for such a long period. Short-term goals can be easier for the players and coach to digest and can help them recover in the long run.

On Tuesday,the day after the last year’s runners-up failed to squeak through their first test,the players and the coach went back to the drawing board to evaluate their performance and regroup.


“We must get better defensively all around. And we must get our act together fast,” Bencherifa told The Indian Express.

Indeed,defensive improvement is the need of the hour for Bagan should they want to be title contenders. Bagan defenders are too soft,and are easy meat for well-built foreign strikers. Okolie Odafa,Edmilson Marques and Edmar Joshimar — all enjoyed toying with Deepak Mondal & Co. It is widely accepted that professional football starts at six feet and 80 kg if one is not exceptionally skillful. Bencherifa admits this and wants to overhaul his defence. A good and strong central defender can solve the problem who will allow Mondal to move to the wide position in the rearguard. With due respect to Mondal,he is not getting any younger and doesn’t have the height or power to lead the defence from centre. The club is reportedly searching for someone under the Asian quota and has contacted a couple of players — one from Palestine and the other from Uzbekistan.

But Jose Barreto’s injury has put the team management in a dilemma. The Brazilian striker injured his calf muscle in the last match and is ruled out for at least the next two games. There is a serious question mark over him lasting the distance. So,the think-tank seems to be in two minds if it will be better to rope in a striker under the Asian quota or go for a defender.

Bagan coach,officials and fans — everybody allows emotion to rule over logic when the subject is Barreto. A great player in his own right,Barreto’s contribution to the club is legendary. But he is past his sell-by date and it’s time to roll over him. Bencherifa should have the final say in this regard and he has to be ruthless. Perhaps it is better to have somebody on board as Barreto’s replacement,not as his backup. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) allows replacement for an injured player,and Barreto,who barely had any pre-season this time,is anything but an asset.

Bagan are still to fill their Asian and PIO (Player of Indian Origin) quotas. Ideally they would like to have one player under each quota for defence and upfront. But it’s not easy to find a player of quality under the PIO quota. Iman Kalyan Mohanto,who appeared for the trial,failed to impress the coach. Bencherifa has one eye on Andorra’s national team captain Oscar Sonejee Masand. But the latter is reportedly set to enter into a contract with Churchill Brothers. The coach will have to decide fast.

Bagan’s next opponent is JCT,who are going into the game fresh from a 5-1 win over Lajong FC. The green-and-maroons have a relatively soft fixture then — against Viva Kerala — before they take on East Bengal on October 25.

Bagan missed out on the title last season due to a bad start — just one point in the first five matches. And even a 10-match winning streak couldn’t offset the initial hiccups.

Bencherifa must have that in mind.