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Mohun Bagan: Spanish contingent the force behind Mariners' success

Published at :March 3, 2020 at 9:31 PM
Modified at :December 13, 2023 at 1:01 PM
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(Courtesy : I-League Media)

Coaches from across the league had words of praise for the league-leaders.

Gone are those days when a Ranti Martins or an Odafa Okolie would tear apart any opposition almost at will; or a Bello Razzaq or a Uga Okpara would lead a defiant defensive unit to frustrate oppositions in Hero I-League. Today the Beitias and Morantes have taken centre stage at Mohun Bagan.

They are now ruling the League as it has witnessed a smooth transition of the powerhouse from Africa to Europe, primarily Spain since the last edition.

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"During our playing days, teams used to rope in foreigners primarily from Nigeria, Liberia and other African countries. Acclimatising to Indian conditions used to be somewhat easier for them compared to Europeans. Their physical structure was something which used to provide much confidence to other Indian players," Venkatesh Shanmugam, Head Coach, Indian Arrows quipped.

Venkatesh had a phenomenal playing career, which spanned not less than 15 years, with ITI, Salgaocar SC, Mahindra United, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Pune FC.

"The Spanish trio at Bagan has been phenomenal and their performance has motivated the Indian players to push their level. Ashutosh (Mehta), Sk. Sahil, (Nongdamba) Naorem and other Indian players have also been exceptional for the Mariners,” Venkatesh continued. “The performance of the Spaniards has played the role of a positive catalyst. I can relate to them and remember how playing alongside Jose Barreto and other foreigners improved my performance.”

Fran Gonzalez, the former Real Zaragoza man, has been a fan favourite since the inception of the current season for all the right reasons. Despite being a defensive midfielder, he is the joint top-scorer with 10 goals under his belt right now.

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Meanwhile, he is heralded as 'boss' by the Mariners because of his imposing presence in the midfield who boasts of more than 80% successful pass accuracy (478/596) after 14 matches. When asked about the Spanish influence to Mohun Bagan's scintillating run, he brushed it aside though.

"We support each other in and off the pitch as a family. It actually doesn’t matter who is scoring or giving an assist. We always fight together against our opponent. We lose together, win together," a smiling Gonzalez replied.

Kibu Vicuna, the man behind the scene, also iterated 'the team' philosophy but didn't deny that "they are important players" for Mohun Bagan.

"They are important players for us because they can help us in order to implement our style. But the most important thing is that the whole team believes in the way we play and enjoy every session. The most important player in the team is the team itself," the coach expressed.

Venkatesh emphasised that a “well-disciplined unit” is the secret of Mohun Bagan’s success story.

“We have seen so many times a star-studded team falling apart.  But this team hasn’t because they are a well-disciplined unit. The foreigners have shrugged off their ego, and are enjoying being part of the system just like an Indian youngster. The coach, management, players -- everyone is part of the system. No one is bigger than the team, at least that’s their mantra as I see,” Venkatesh echoed.

Understandably with the whole team responding to the ideology, the century-old club are at the moment on a 12-match unbeaten streak, sitting pretty on 35 points from 14 matches and sniffing the title.

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A major chunk of credit goes to the 'assist master' Joseba Beitia, the former Real Sociedad midfielder. Beitia has 8 assists to his name out of 33 goals scored by the Mariners until now, almost 25% - which underlines his credibility in the team.

If someone admires Gonzalez's passing accuracy, Beitia's jaw-dropping numbers would surely leave one spellbound. 726 successful passes with 82% success rate encompass the Spanish's ability to turn a game on its head.

"It's not only me or Fran. It's the entire team who have clicked at the right moment. We hardly think about our individual numbers," a soft-spoken Beitia responded. He also boasts of 125 successful challenges with a 51% success rate – striking indeed from an attacking midfielder’s vantage point.

Meanwhile, the person, who imbibed Spanish football in Hero I-League successfully for the first time, felt these boys are a "different kind of players."

Akbar Nawas, Head Coach, Chennai City who had signed Spanish foreigners who were not-at-all-known-in-India but eventually, the Spanish quartet comprising of Pedro Manzi, Nestor Gordillo, Sandro and Eslava Suarez led the Southerners to their maiden Hero I-League glory in 2018-19.

"These Mohun Bagan boys are a different kind of players but equally competitive. I can't compare them with ours (Spanish players from 2018-19) but these boys are terrifically talented," Nawas mentioned.

While Manzi went on to score 21 goals, Sandro and Nestor were also 9 and 8 times on target respectively for the Orange outfit. Besides that, Nestor assisted 9 out of Chennai's tally of 46, not far behind of Beitia.

Besides, there has also been a silent operator in the Mariners' defence - Fran Morante. The defensive leader, with his tackling and interceptive skill, have been rock solid at the back. The imposing defender has 173 successful challenges with a 72% success rate until now, whereas the next one in the list clocks a success rate of 65%.

However, Akbar Nawas also reminded that Papa Diawara has been playing a 'crucial part' in Mohun Bagan's almost-perfect campaign so far. “They (Spanish-origin players) are competitive but one can’t discount the fact Diawara’s contribution to Mohun Bagan’s campaign. He has been playing a crucial part as well."

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The Senegalese striker has already struck eight times since joining Bagan. Although he doesn't hail from the European country, he brings his own bit of Spanish football along with him, thanks to his successful spell with Getafe, Levante and Sevilla in La Liga.

Yan Law, Head Coach Punjab FC, didn't hesitate to admit that foreigners "have been splendid" for Mohun Bagan this season. "The foreign signings of Mohun Bagan have been splendid this season. They have a lot of experience and quality which has given Mohun Bagan a completely new dimension this season. They all have played a big role in Mohun Bagan's spectacular run this season," Law stated.

Punjab FC, with 22 points from 14 games, are currently second in the Hero I-League title race.