Exclusive: Playing for both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan was special for me– Biswajit Bhattacharya
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
The veteran head coach spoke about Kolkata football and urged more focus on grassroots development.
For Biswajit Bhattacharya, football has almost been everything throughout his whole career. Now a renowned manager in the Kolkata football scene, Bhattacharya became a legend in Indian Football during his days as a player. He was the star player for East Bengal in the 80s, and a prolific striker not only in club level but in the national scene as well. He etched his name into history after scoring against Poland in the infamous 1984 Nehru Cup, which was India’s only goal in the tournament. Argentina had also participated in the competition.
Bhattacharya’s playing career might have come to an unfortunate end after a motorcycle accident, but that did not break his devotion for the beautiful game. Bhattacharya worked hard on his managerial career and has had the pleasure of managing both the Kolkata giants, in the form of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Most recently, Bhattacharya played a big part in Peerless’ excellent season in the Calcutta Football League 2018/19 season. He managed to take points from both his former clubs and rallying Peerless to a second-place finish, before resigning after his victory against East Bengal.
Khel Now had an opportunity to sit down with Bhattacharya recently and have a chat on all things related to football. Speaking about guiding Peerless to such an esteemed position in the CFL, he said, “This season was going really well for me. I was satisfied with the team I inherited. The response from the players was really positive and allowed us to start the season well. We had a great run initially, and despite some rare ups and downs, throughout the season we played really well.”
“I managed eight out of eleven matches, and starting from the seventh match, problems started happening with our officials. They started telling me that their chairman had ordered for me to start making my team with the help of my players. After I saw that things were getting out of control, I handed in my resignation after the East Bengal match,” he further added.
He had some kind words for Ansumana Kromah, who ended the campaign as CFL’s top goal-scorer, and earned a move to Aizawl FC. “I feel very good for him. I needed to prove that those who let him go had made a mistake. He’s a very good ball-player, has great vision and has a great scoring capability. He’s a fantastic withdrawal forward for me. As a player, he has a lot of good qualities, which will help him play well in the I-league.”
The former East Bengal striker also heaped praises on some other domestic players who had impressed him in the CFL. He said, “I was really impressed with Dalraj Singh. Dalraj for me was one of the best centre-backs of the CFL this season. Hira Mondal, who got signed by East Bengal, was also superb for us. Laxmi Mandi was also very good. Naro Hari Shrestha and Dipankar Das are also very good players.”
“See, I can’t really name other teams’ players who I loved watching. If I state my favorites now and they go to another team later on, then there will be problems for me to try and sign them up. So, strategically I might have some problems.”, he said when asked about other teams’ players who impressed him.
As a manager, Bhattacharya has been involved in Kolkata football for over a decade now. When questioned on the change he’s seen over these years, he explained, “There’s a lot of change from then and now. The players were extremely casual back then. They used to think that a normal job would be enough for their livelihood. But now things have reached a saturated point and players are forced to focus on playing football. That is why these players are much more motivated to play better and prove themselves. The players these days practice really well, they work hard. What the Bengali players didn’t do many years back, they are doing that right now and that’s a great thing for me.”
Bhattacharya has been quite successful as a manager, winning the CFL with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and even managing the Red and Gold Brigaders in the I-League. But when it comes to his most cherishable moment as a manager, he had a surprising answer and said, “I felt really good a few years ago when I helped George Telegraph survive relegation from the Calcutta Football League. We only had five matches left back then, and were at the absolute bottom. I took that challenge and decided to change up the foreign players.”
“So I decided to play a local friendly tournament and roped in two foreign players from that. We won our first match against Chirag United which kick-started a spark. We went onto win two or three matches afterwards, and got ourselves out of relegation. This was a really cheery moment in my managerial career. I enjoyed this much more than I did when I won the CFL, because nothing would really happen if you can’t win the CFL. However, when a team that is threatened to relegation and 30 of their players have to go play in second-division and can’t sign for another club, the stakes are much higher. So going out of my comfort zone to save them from relegation, I attained a kind of happiness which nothing else could give me.” he explained.
The former Peerless SC manager might’ve stepped down from management recently, but he plans on continuing his managerial career in the near future. He said, “See as long as my health is okay, I’m going to continue. Football is my passion. I’ve always worked with my head held high. I’ll continue to work as a manager, as long as I’m respected in the game. When I’m not, I’ll walk away!”
Bhattacharya also spoke on the license issue many Indian coaches have to been made to face, because of the All India Football Federation’s ruling. He explained, “See, these are rules and should be done. When the AIFF and AFC have adopted it through FIFA, the managers should get it done. It’s because, in any managerial teaching line, these are mandatory.
“However, the renowned sportsmen in our country should be helped and allowed to get an A License. Even the IFA should make a ruling about the license, the coaches need to manage. There are many divisions in Indian Football and there should be a separate license required for each of them, based on the ranking of their importance.” he added.
But, when speaking on whether or not many unearthed, great football managers are missing their chance to shine at the highest level due to the lack of a license, Bhattacharya said, “Those who are actually willing to do it, they do it. Like I had the urge to do it hence I took some time off to do it. I got my A-license from Germany after a 16-week long course. The likes of Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger also have those license. I can work as a head coach in Africa, Asia, and Latin America with this license. So those who actually have the passion of managing, they will complete the courses as we did.”
The former East Bengal manager also gave a stark answer on the role a coach has in helping budding Indian footballers grow over the country. He said, “The coaches have a huge role. The grooming system we’re adapting, we need to give more emphasis on the U-13, U-16 and U-18 level. Whenever we put more importance on the grassroots level, we will see a stark development.”
“For example, this season, the ISL is being dominated by the Indian players. The stunning goals are being scored by the Indian players, the Indian defenders are doing really well. This also means that the foreigners coming into the league aren’t up to the mark. If we can bring in better players, our standard will develop even further.” he explained.
Bhattacharya also gave an insight into his favourite moments as a player. He said, “I played so many matches in my career that it’s difficult to list them. I think the goal against Poland in the Nehru Cup was a really proud moment for me. Becoming the highest scorer and best player in the national league three consecutive years as well. There are too many to remember, but playing for both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan was special for me as well.”
The Indian national team’s performance fell off after Bhattacharya and his team-mates bid adieu to the game. Things really regressed in the early 2000s before serious recovery has been done under Stephen Constantine in recent years. When asked about what he thinks needs to happen for the national team to get back to “The Golden Era”, he explained, “I think what we’re doing right now in giving importance to the development of football and the game itself. If we had done it a few decades ago, then the state of football in India would’ve been much better right now.”
“We’ve started putting an emphasis on the grass-root level and development of the game now, and I think we’ll see much better results 10 years from now on. Nowadays we’re winning against Iran, drawing against Spain, losing only 1-0 against Korea. The Korean coach himself stated that our defense was the tournament’s best defense. Hence, this proves that we also have the quality like other countries. Just, there was a need to accelerate things earlier, but now that we have started thinking about the growth of football, I think things will improve in the future.” he added.
When asked about what the budding Indian players have to do to achieve the footballing standards of the heavyweight Asian countries like Japan & South Korea, he stated, “They will need to work even harder for that. The instructions of the coaches who are coming from foreign countries have to be followed. The junior players themselves have to motivate those in their clubs, localities, and that will help us slowly reach their level.”
Finally, Bhattacharya spoke about how he feels if East Bengal and Mohun Bagan can compete with the ISL clubs – if they are to join the league or if a merger takes place. He said, “East Bengal and Mohun Bagan played really well against ISL’s top four last season in the Super Cup. Both got into the semi-finals of the tournament and played equally well to the ISL clubs. Hence, we couldn’t decipher if the ISL teams were better or East Bengal and Mohun Bagan were. I think their performance in the Super Cup last season proved how well both the Kolkata clubs can do if they play in the ISL.”
Published: Tue Oct 30, 2018 02:58 PM IST