Domestic players are keen to represent the club which they passionately followed while growing up.
ATK Mohun Bagan are a team filled with local Bengali players who have represented the Mariners before and have also donned the historic Green and Maroon colours. There are seven local players enrolled in Antonio Lopez Habas’ side who have previously represented Mohun Bagan.
Young midfielder Sheikh Sahil and custodian Avilash Paul were part of the I-League winning side from last season. While India internationals like Pritam Kotal, Pronay Halder, Subhasish Bose, Arindam Bhattacharya and Prabir Das have also had their memories with the club. Among the Bengali brigade, Kotal has spent five years at the club, while the rest of them have had 2-3 year stints.
Kotal has established himself as one of the finest defenders in the country and has won several accolades in the last few years. He has won the I-League with the Mariners, whilst sharing the dressing room with some of them at ATKMB.
Ahead of the curtain-raiser on Friday, the 27-year old said, “There is no way to deny that the passion of Mohun Bagan’s jersey is different. The pressure of expectation is also high. I also know the mood of the gallery, as I have played at both the clubs before the merger. I got all the big trophies of the country at different times. However, I am excited to think that the team we have this time can have some good results in the AFC Cup too. On the international stage, there is a chance to be proud of wearing a green-maroon jersey.”
Unlike Kotal, Arindam had an average season with Mohun Bagan and he won the I-League representing Churchill Brothers. However, now back with the club, the experienced custodian wants to redeem himself. “I won the I-League by playing for the Goa club. I did not play very well in the first year for Mohun Bagan. I have been playing for 15 years. I didn’t think I would get a chance to play again wearing the green-maroon jersey. It’s like returning home after a long time. Wearing the jerseys of the two big teams in Kolkata creates a different motivation.”
Both Pritam and Arindam feels its a gift for any local player to get to play the Kolkata Derby in the ISL. “Bengali boys are under more pressure in dthan other games. I have been watching the importance of this match for the people of Bengal since childhood. It is a big challenge to get success on the field wearing the Mohun Bagan jersey,” said Prabir Das.
The right wing-back came back from injury and had a terrific last season for ATK, especially in the playoffs. He will be a very vital cog in Habas’ side. “Just as ATK helped me standing by my side to come back to the field when I was injured, Mohun Bagan also signed me when no club called me. Otherwise, I might have been lost. It was great to hear that ATK and Mohun Bagan are becoming one. We made ATK a champion. I want to give something back to the old club supporters wearing the green maroon jersey,” he added.
Next up is the new acquisition, Subhasish Bose who has never lost in a Kolkata Derby and impressed with his versatility. Habas was quick to make a move for him in the summer. However, the 25-year-old has never won a trophy with Mohun Bagan, as the Green and Maroons only finished runners-up in the I-League and Federation Cup during his time at the club. “It is a fact that I never thought I would get a chance to wear green-maroon jersey again after playing in different clubs across the country. The aim of all Bengali footballers is to play in two big clubs. Mohun Bagan’s jersey weighs a lot more this time. If we win the Kerala match, we will be ahead in the derby,” Bose opined.
Pranoy Halder is another player who has been in the national team for some time now and is one of the experienced campaigners in Habas’ side. The dynamic midfielder grew up in a footballing background and always knew the passion of wearing Mohun Bagan colours. “I grew up in a football environment. I have seen the passion of the supporters with Mohun Bagan jersey and flag since childhood. I wanted the two teams of Kolkata to play ISL. I would play for one of them. That is what is happening this time. In addition to being the champions, we also have to win the derby. I know that the fans of the club are not happy just for being champions,” Halder concluded.