The General Secretary of the Black Panthers spoke at length about their successful I-League Qualifiers campaign and the future.

Mohammedan Sporting Club (MSC) secured a place in the forthcoming edition of the I-League by winning the qualifying tournament held in Kolkata recently. In July, Sk Wasim Akram was instated as the General Secretary of the Black Panthers. He oversaw preparations for this competition in the last few months.

Mohammedan roped in a host of players to revamp their squad and posed a fitting challenge to gain promotion to the second tier. The iconic outfit rolled over the opposition through their commendable performances. Recently, Akram appeared on the latest episode of AIFF TV and talked at length about their successful qualifying campaign and the future of the club.

“It means a lot. After seven years and 11 months, we have finally made it there (I-League). The I-League is a platform where we should have been forever, but due to some reasons we couldn’t be a part of it,” Sk Wasim Akram explained. He added, “From the time I joined Mohammedan Sporting, looking at the support base and the pan-India presence that we had, I realized that playing in the second division is not what we wanted to do.”

The official addressed the fact that the club’s supporters maintained very humble expectations. He stated that the fans were eager for MSC to compete in the I-League and that was the only demand that they voiced ever since Akram took over as the General Secretary a few months ago. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have devised their ways to play in the top-tier league of the country too.

Meanwhile, the club’s city rivals Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have devised their ways to play in the top league of the country. The two illustrious outfits will feature in the seventh season of the Indian Super League (ISL) and Mohammedan harbour a hope to do the same in the future. “They (supporters) know that we have to cross the hurdles one at a time. Now, we have to look forward to winning the I-League and qualifying for the ISL. Because Mohammedan Sporting ultimately deserves to be there (ISL), where it belongs and this is just a step forward,” Akram asserted.

The ISL is set to start from November 20 onward. However, the commencement date of the I-League hasn’t been announced yet. Clubs are still strengthening their squads in the transfer market. Akram elaborated Mohammedan’s plans ahead of the competition.

He stated, “We still haven’t got any official communication from the AIFF. But, from what we have heard from the officials, it is going to start from December 26th. If it starts then, we will like to start with our practice from the first week of November itself, right after the Puja. Right now, we already have a team and we will continue with the same, but there will be an inclusion of 4-5 players. We are in talks with them and within a week or so, we are going to finalize the deals.”

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The I-League Qualifiers were significant, being the first major sporting event conducted in the country amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The squads remained in a bio-secure bubble and it was a new concept for the Indian football fraternity. Sk Wasim Akram reflected on the arrangements for the tournament and mentioned, “The way it was organized was really satisfactory.

Because, no-one really knew about this new normal. It was just in the papers and we could see the European leagues happening. The AIFF, IFA and our Sports Ministry held a meeting together and they figured that the I-League Qualifiers should happen. This was the first sporting event in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic and the entire country was looking at it. They had no room to make mistakes.”

Akram added, “It was a very sensitive issue. The players and the officials were being tested every four days. Two of our players tested positive too. So, these hassles were there but the way it was handled by the AIFF and the IFA, I feel they have done a commendable job. I cannot think of any other way that it could have been done.”

Earlier in the interaction, the General Secretary had pondered upon the changes that he and his team of officials have brought in the club’s system. He mentioned that though all administrators work on an honorary basis, Akram has realized that Mohammedan Sporting require their utmost dedication and attention.

“Once you become an administrator in any of the clubs in the maidan, you don’t become an administrator only. I am the General Secretary on paper, but basically I carry out a lot of roles. If a player under-performs, I am the first person who gets a call asking ‘why is he not playing well?’ and ‘remove him and bring in this player’ and all that. So, you become the face of the club and that passion that you see from the people around you means you want to be a part of the club,” the Mohammedan SC functionary signed off.

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