The veteran midfielder is regarded as the prodigal son of the Red and Gold.
One of the evergreen names in Indian football, Mehtab Hossain has been portrayed as the prodigal son of East Bengal by the Red and Gold Brigade since long. However, as age caught up with the midfield general, the East Bengal fans were split down the middle. While one side questioned Hossain’s contribution to the team among other things, another backed him up terming him as a legend of the club and decided to give him some time.
Despite criticism, Mehtab decided to stay with the club for some time, before finally moving on to new Indian Super League (ISL) franchise Jamshedpur FC from the domestic players’ draft before the start of the 2017-18 campaign.
As the ISL season concluded this year, reports of the 32-year-old midfielder wanting to go back to East Bengal emerged. However, another report by Bengali daily Aajkal was published less than 24 hours ago, revealing that the Men of Steel are keen on retaining him for the next edition of the league, meaning East Bengal’s midfield woes might not be solved anytime soon.
Mehtab was an integral part of East Bengal for 10 long years
With Mahmoud Al Amnah operating as a shield for the back four along with Cavin Lobo (occasionally), East Bengal’s midfield has looked a powerhouse whenever the former has started for the Red and Gold. This has led them to consider an extension to the Syrian’s stay at the club.
However, the other replacement, Bazie Armand, failed to impress both the coach and the fans and was released by the club later. The Kolkata giants then signed Ugandan international Khalid Aucho to accompany Al Amnah. The Syrian midfielder had several injuries last season and the Ugandan midfielder arrived late only to be part of the Super Cup.
Why Mehtab’s return will be significant for East Bengal?
Since Hossain’s departure from the I-League, East Bengal have once again come close to finally clinching the title, but failed, perpetually. For instance, in both of the Kolkata Derbies this season, East Bengal’s midfield could not cope up with the pace and strategic brilliance of Mohun Bagan and were overwhelmed even before the hour mark.
Hossain, known to be a natural leader on the field and a big match player, could have changed the flow of the game. Again, away to Gokulam Kerala, where East Bengal were hit on the counter multiple times and conceded, the scenario could have been different had Hossain been there.
Also, recent developments at the club have revealed discontent among senior players. As an example, a few days ago reports revealed a practice session bust-up between two of the senior most players in the squad. The club’s Technical Director Subhash Bhowmik, known for his man-management skills, had failed to prevent it. One might wonder, had Hossain been present at that time, the unpleasantries could have been avoided.
Jamshedpur FC emerged as one of the best defensive sides under Steve Coppell in the ISL this season. The contribution of Tiri and Andre Bikey helped the Men of Steel massively to achieve that milestone. Another key cog in the wheel was Hossain, who made 12 appearances for the debutants, registering a 66.17% passing accuracy for a team which did not depend on a deep-lying playmaker.
Meanwhile, at East Bengal, Al Amna often played in a free role and was seen in the attacking third frequently, but left the back four vulnerable (eg. against Minerva Punjab away). Mehtab’s experience and abilities would have been a positive for the Kolkata giants in such games.
Overall, the move makes sense. With veterans such as Arnab Mondal and Cavin Lobo linked with moves to the ISL, East Bengal could certainly use the extra experience amidst the young spine of the squad. For what its worth, it has been evident for quite some time now that the team needs a leadership figure among themselves. As such, Hossain’s transfer could be a positive move for the century-old club.