The 23-year-old has been with Kolkata giants East Bengal since beginning of last season.

Everyone likes the underdog story. The needy rises like a trailblazer, punches above his weight, makes the place his own and becomes an inspiration. Do we support that person when the time comes? Pintu Mahata is one such story.

Hailing from a village in Midnapur, situated on the banks of river Kangsabati, the footballer made a dream start to his career with Mohun Bagan. After a short stint, he joined the list of few players who played for arch-rivals East Bengal, signing on the dotted line in 2019-20.

The pandemic, like everyone else, has affected Pintu’s life as well. The player is yet to receive a month’s salary from his club and his employers want him to play on the same fee that they paid last season, even when his previous contract mentions a 15% hike.

“Ato daami daami notun player sign kore nicche, kintu amader dewar jonne taka nei bolche. Eta ki theek bolo?” says Pintu, in his mother tongue. (They are signing new players at such costs, but they don’t have the money to pay us. Is this right?)

Siddharth Bhattacharya, a Football Players’ Association of India (FPAI) official, told Khel Now that the conduct with which clubs, especially from the I-League, activated the force majeure clause was inappropriate. “The I-League clubs did not consult the players while asking them to take a pay cut, it was more like a unilateral decision. If you don’t consult the player, how would you know what situation he is in?”

He went on to explain how it would still be fine for players with higher salaries to take a pay cut, considering the current scenario due to COVID-19. However, that will certainly not be the same in the case of players who earn significantly less. Bhattacharya made his point by suggesting how clubs should have consulted the players before arriving at a decision. The same happened in the case of 23-year-old Pintu Mahata, who is on a three-year contract with East Bengal.

“I want to play for East Bengal, but I want them to keep their end of the bargain as well,” says the footballer, who is in his village currently. Pintu is building a house in the same village and on being prodded, he said he didn’t have enough money to move his family to the city. He was kept in a local school for 14-day quarantine when he returned to his village, but has resumed practice at the local ground. 

The footballer made his Kolkata Derby debut for the erstwhile Green and Maroons and on 3rd September 2018, scored his maiden goal against East Bengal to also lift the Man of the Match award. He has been unlucky, with two injuries hampering his chances in two consecutive seasons in the I-League. However, he helped Mohun Bagan lift the CFL title in 2018-19, before his move to the Red and Gold.

East Bengal recently parted ways with Quess after an association that lasted two years and have signed players by the bucket, ranging from Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Milan Singh and have reportedly also acquired Iranian playmaker Omid Singh as well. The club is in a tug-of-war to feature in the Indian Super League, but looking at the state of affairs, it looks highly unlikely to happen this season.

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Pintu Mahata has offers from ISL and I-League clubs, but he prefers to stay at East Bengal for now. He is being coaxed by a certain East Bengal official, who was a former player with the club, to accept the new deal, but Pintu wants the club to honour his contract and also those of other players who are on long-term contracts.

At 23, the youngster has a long way to go. He’s already shown his qualities, notching up several goals and assists in the I-League and Calcutta Football League. If Indian footballers continue to get such treatment from clubs, a lot of them will have to leave their sport for other avenues, hampering the rise of the nation that is termed as the ‘sleeping giant’ of the sport. Clubs need to show professionalism and respect their end of terms and only then will the game get better holistically.

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