Jobby Justin, who was at the centre of a transfer row between East Bengal and ATK till last month, says he’s thankful for the platform that the I-League provided, but it was always going to be an easy answer when the ISL came calling.
“From my experience of following football last season, I’ll have to say I-League is the best league in the country. We had a crazy season last year, with all of Chennai City FC, East Bengal and Real Kashmir fighting for the title till the end. However, as a professional player, I thought the logical decision would be to move to the ISL,” Justin told indianexpress.com.
Justin, presently a striker for ATK and India, is one of the most significant examples of the shift from the country’s older league to the new. He came to prominence in the I-League, driving stadiums of fanatics hoarse with cheers. With 9 goals in the 2018-19 I-League, Justin was the joint highest-scoring Indian in the country’s two premier football leagues last season, along with Sunil Chhetri.
Justin’s decision to move to the ISL had hit a roadblock not too long ago. After the news broke in April that he had signed with ATK, East Bengal claimed that he had signed a contract with them too, which the footballer vehemently denied. In the end, the AIFF intervened, and ruled in ATK’s favour, saying that East Bengal did not have “sufficient evidence”.
From being derby hero to being Chhetri’s back-up
Jobby Justin had been spotted by East Bengal’s scouts at a local Kerala tournament in 2017. In June this year, when the row over his contract took an ugly turn, East Bengal secretary Kalyan Majumdar was quoted as saying in a press conference that they wouldn’t let Justin go since he “needs to be taught a lesson”.
In spite of the acrimonious parting, Justin remembers his time with East Bengal fondly.
“I am very thankful to East Bengal for providing me with a platform. I could score many goals last season because the team was very united and we had a good coach,” he said.
“I had been warned about many things in Kolkata football, and they all turned out to be true. But there are some good fans, they keep messaging me about the derbies (against Mohun Bagan),” Justin said.
The adulation is understandable. Justin is only the eighth player to score in both East Bengal-Mohun Bagan derbies in the NFL and I-League in the same season. After the most recent derby victory, in January this year, Justin and Spanish import Jaime Colado walked over to the fans and treated the Salt Lake Stadium faithful to around half an hour of impromptu dance moves.
For now, Justin wants to put the madness of Kolkata football in the background and focus on the upcoming World Cup qualifiers for India.
“It is a whole different feeling playing for India – starting from singing the national anthem to everybody fighting for places in the starting XI,” he said.