Shrewd Sankarlal Chakraborty’s patience and believe pays off in Mohun Bagan’s CFL glory
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
The gaffer led The Mariners to CFL title victory after an eight-year drought.
When Sankarlal Chakraborty replaced Sanjoy Sen half-way through the I-League season last time, many thought him to be a transitional manager who would be “upgraded” once the new season began. Chakraborty, having done some great work as manager during the Calcutta Football League a year ago, was given the keys to saving the ship from sinking even deeper and has done his job impressively.
He helped the Mariners secure a terrific 2-0 Kolkata Derby win over rivals East Bengal, dampening their title dreams. He made them play some exciting football towards the end and earned a respectable 3rd place finish, higher than East Bengal in the I-League table. Chakraborty’s impressive work was noticed by the Mohun Bagan officials, who decided to trust him and made acquisitions according to the needs of the manager.
While Mohun Bagan was facing financial crunches and disruptions within the club officials, Chakraborty kept to the sidelines biding his team to lodge a proper title challenge in the Calcutta Football League this season. He brought in Henry Kisekka, the towering Ugandan striker who made quite the impression for Gokulam Kerala last season and allotted the striker to play alongside another powerful striker in Asier Dipanda Dicka.
Sankarlal had to face the inevitability of some players swimming away to Indian Super League clubs, with star-performers like Nikhil Kadam, Sheik Faiaz, Ricky Lallawmawma, Raynier Fernandes, Rana Gharami and Bikramjeet Singh all leaving for the spotlight of the ISL. But his impressive eye for recognizing talents allowed Sankarlal to make some astute signings and bring in the likes of Abhishek Ambekar, Britto PM, Lalchhawnkim, William Lalnunfela, and Abhinas Ruidas to replace them with. He also signed Mehtab Hossain and Tirthankar Sarkar to add experience to the squad and improved his bench-strength because of impact players as such.
But something which Sankarlal truly shined at was to bring out the best of the local players such as Pintu Mahata, Sourav Das and Arijit Bagui, as he used their years of experience playing at the "Kolkata Maidan" perfectly. Mahata, who Sankarlal stated to be “destined for the ISL” after a Man of the Match performance against East Bengal in the Kolkata derby, showed vast improvement operating in the wings and the middle to terrorize teams with his movement. Sourav, who has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism lately, showed great maturity to help the Mariners control games. Sankarlal also gave Bagui a lot of freedom, allowing him to roam forward and be an absolute menace with his movement and terrific crossing ability, and he ended up being Bagan’s best defender in the CFL.
After a rigorous month of pre-season training prior to the CFL season, Mohun Bagan looked really underwhelming in their first few games in the league. It was vastly because of this weird 3-5-2 formation Sankarlal was experimenting with. Despite scraping through early wins, Mohun Bagan’s demons caught up to them when they were held by Peerless thanks to a last-minute equalizer from former man Ansumana Kromah.
It was that shake-up which forced the stubborn Sankarlal to change-up his game and makes the players play in a system which actually works in a stuck-in league like CFL. He changed up to a 4-4-2 formation against Tollygunge Agragami, with Britto and Mahata accompanying the wings and a two-man midfield of Das and Shilton D’Silva operating in the middle. He also changed how Kisekka and Dicka worked, as either of the strikers would often fall back into this deep-lying striker role while the other terrorized defenders inside the box. Not only did this help bring more fluidity to Bagan’s game, but allowed the wingers and strikers more space to create chances.
The Mariners did not look back from the Peerless game and picked up an incredible momentum, which continued till the derby. Sankarlal made Bagan pressurize the new-formed defense of East Bengal which included debutant Johnny Acosta right from the get-go and made his players stretch their defense. Two of the Mariners goals were extremely similar, with Bagui’s low crosses from the right finding Kisekka and Mahata unmarked mostly because of how Dicka had the attention of the defenders, allowing them to score.
While Chakraborty was disappointed with his team’s defending from set-pieces which cost them all three points on the day, Bagan still had the upper hand thanks to their superior goal difference. The same superior-goal difference because of which East Bengal had lost the title last time haunted them this time, as a scrappy Bengal lost two pivotal matches against Peerless and Mohammedan Sporting to hand the CFL title to the Mariners after an eight-year drought.
Many factors could be taken into consideration when analyzing Chakraborty’s discreet yet excellent work in the Calcutta Football League. But something he did, was learn from the mistakes he made early in the season, changed up his system and trusted his players to reciprocate to his tactics. He allowed them to play a more free-flowing, fluid form of football which involved being on the attack, but also made them realize their defensive duties and gave Kingsley the charge to keep the clean-sheets.
Sankarlal’s excellent ability to get the best out of talents was on show, with Sourav and Mahata’s inspired performances, and the warm manner in which he nurtures and treats talent is second to none. While staying extremely patient and often taking all criticism upon himself, Sankarlal secured reward late into the season and became a fan-favourite. He goaded East Bengal into this sense of security of having won the CFL title with their blistering start to the season but tricked them by hitting top gear in the business end. In the end, even the highly experienced trio of Subhash Bhowmick, Bastob Roy and Ranjan Chowdhury were tricked into surrendering the CFL title.
Sankarlal Chakraborty’s highly impressive work as manager so far has proved why Mohun Bagan officials were correct in giving him some time to shine. But they have to give him the players he needs to deliver a proper title challenge in the I-League again this season, and knowing him, Sankarlal will be working 24x7 into building a compact squad for the highly competitive league.
While Sankarlal has earned some time to celebrate the CFL success, he isn’t someone to slack off and is already planning his system for I-League. He’s become a master in his own right and will look to cement his legacy in the Mohun Bagan history books by bringing home the I-League title and taking the Mariners back to the top of the food chain.
Published: Sun Sep 16, 2018 09:11 PM IST