The duo are expected to help the Mariners leave their defensive vulnerabilities from last season behind.
After an embarrassing season which saw them account their worst I-League finish in half a decade, Mohun Bagan are making sure to undergo a proper overhaul. In order to avoid the dark days the club was entangled in before Sanjoy Sen’s appointment, the Mariners have started making inroads in the transfer market.
To pump up the experience factor in the team, they’ve roped in former star Dhanachandra Singh along with former I-League winner Ashutosh Mehta into the fray. The first of presumably many signings in the summer, the Mariners have addressed an issue which plagued them throughout last season. The lack of proper experience in defence cost them, resulting in humiliating losses to clubs with meagre reputations.
While in hindsight Dhanachandra and Ashutosh aren’t the blooming defenders the fans would’ve wanted, they will strengthen their core with knowledge. The Manipuri left-back boasts over a decade of experience in Indian Football. He’s plied his trade in numerous states and has won everything there is to win around the country.
Ashutosh, on the other hand, has suffered from a lack of game-time in recent seasons. After winning the title with Aizawl FC, he failed to solidify a place in either ATK or FC Pune City in the past two seasons. However, with his knowledge in the I-League, he could find back his old form as a hard-hitting defender.
Only the bottom-two teams Gokulam Kerala and Shillong Lajong conceded more goals than Mohun Bagan last season. The reason? A weakly threaded defensive line with the lack of proper backups to enable a smooth, rotating system. Sukhdev Singh, their prime defensive signing, was riddled with controversies and ruled out the season due to numerous problems. Lalchhawnkima ended up being too error-prone, while Bikramjit Singh and Dalraj Singh too inexperienced to wither the storms.
Kingsley Eze, who was given the captaincy armband and responsibility to hold down the fort, crumbled under pressure. The defensive leaders’ frailties caused a complete malfunction in the junction. Arijit Bagui was the saving grace, but even he couldn’t be a superman to do other duties all by himself. As a result, Mohun Bagan are doing the basics right early in the transfer season.
Now with Dhanachandra and Mehta’s inclusion, their defensive set-up looks clearer. With Abhishek Ambekar expected to leave, Dhanachandra could be their starting left-back thanks to his experience along with leadership qualities. Under Cesar Ferrando at Jamshedpur, he gave some proactive performances at the back. In nine games, he averaged three tackles, two interceptions and more than five clearances per game.
Granted his aggressive nature cost the Men of Steel on occasions, but he embodied the fiery spirit his coach wanted from him. An intimidating figure at the back, Dhanachandra’s bombastic attitude is something needed to charge up the Mariners defence. He can also slot in as a centre-back if needed, meaning the Mariners can call upon their experience figurehead if injuries plague them once again.
Ashutosh Mehta’s role, on the other hand, is under doubt. While he will definitely pump up the experience factor in the team, a regular spot is hard to earn. The former FC Pune City defender needs to work really hard, proving his fitness in order to earn his place. Majorly playing as a right-back, Mehta’s ability to play down the left flank as well as a centre-back gives him some leverage over the others.
Nobody can deny his impressive commitment either. Who could forget when he(literally) put his future generations on the line during that painful clearance against FC Goa last season? If that didn’t prove his workmanship, nothing else will! The 28-year-old only made seven appearances in the ISL last season but did a decent job with containing some dangerous defenders. His overall work in contributing in defence and being a willful figure going forward aided the Stallions.
Mehta and Dhanachandra both need to shine through during the Calcutta Football League (CFL), as the Mariners aim to recapture their title. While Singh’s position is safe due to his relationship with the club, Ashutosh needs to fight for his place against mainstay Arijit Bagui. However, their versatility is the biggest boon Bagan can hope to achieve from the signings.
Their ability to play in multiple positions at the back will keep the Mariners defensively strong. The two signings are both assertive with their defending, knowing how to hold down the backline and help those around them withhold the pressure. If Bagan finds themselves with another defensive crisis next season, they’ll have the experienced duo sugarcoating their deficiencies to avoid similar embarrassment like last season.