Although Kolkata is still known as the ‘Mecca of Indian football’, quality players from Bengal have dried up
When India take on Bangladesh in a FIFA World Cup qualifier on Tuesday evening, the Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Salt Lake will be chock-a-block. All tickets have been sold out two days in advance and it will not be surprising if some of them are re-sold for a value manifold the original price.
The passion for the game remains unparalleled in this part of the country and the fans are not willing to let go of an opportunity of witnessing the national team live in action after a gap of almost eight years. Unfortunately, the number of Bengali players in the national team has dwindled over the years.
Previously, an overwhelming number of players from Mohun Bagan and East Bengal would don the national colours but the number has gone down significantly in the last ten years. It is no surprise that this coincided with the rise of Goa’s Dempo and Mumbai’s Mahindra United.
Yet, there were a few names such as Subrata Paul, Rahim Nabi, Deepak Mondal who made their name for the national team. The number would significantly increase if we include players for the two giants in Kolkata.
Interestingly, 10 years ago, India‘s top four goalkeepers – Sandip Nandy, Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, Subrata Paul and Arindam Bhattacharya – belonged to Bengal. In the India U-17 team which took part in the U-17 World Cup in 2017, there were only two Bengali players – Abhijit Sarkar and Rahim Ali. These are clear indications that Bengal’s growth in football has remained stagnant.
But the fact that there happens to be only two Bengalis (Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose) and no representative from either Mohun Bagan or East Bengal in the 23-man squad announced by coach Igor Stimac before the Bangladesh encounter only points to the dismal state of affairs in the state of West Bengal. It must also be noted that the aforementioned players did not feature in the starting eleven in the high-profile clash against Qatar last month.
Pronay Halder who used to be regular in the previous regime under Stephen Constantine has fallen out of favour. Since the defensive midfielder was chucked out of the 23-man list, despite Rowllin Borges being suspended and Amarjit Singh being injured, shows that he is not in the immediate plans of Igor Stimac.
Things are bleak at the local level and that is one of the major reasons why Bengal, which once used to be a hotbed of young talents, has hardly produced any in the last couple of years. This prompts us to raise questions about the role of the Indian Football Association (IFA), the governing body of football in West Bengal.
Located at an obscure building at Sooterkin Street in Chandni Chowk, the decision-makers of the century-old organisation have clearly failed to execute their duties. The record 32-time champions of Santosh Trophy failed to qualify for the main event in the previous edition and this year, they just managed to scrape through after suffering a shock defeat to Bihar in their opening fixture.
It is appalling that even after the loss to Bihar, Bengal coach Ranjan Bhattacharyya, also the coach of George Telegraph SC, and some of the players were back to club duty as the Calcutta Football League coincided with the Santosh Trophy matches.
The grassroots programmes are also not producing the desired results as the state found no representation in the India U-18 squad that recently won the SAFF Championship.
The need of the hour is to completely overhaul the football structure in Bengal. To do that IFA must dig deep in the various districts of the state and work more closely with the district sports associations as most of the talent lies hidden in the far-flung villages than in the cities. There’s hardly any scouting procedure in place during the district sub-divisional games which do not help matters.
Even the residential academies of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have failed to churn out any player who has the capability of representing India. Although Deepak Tangri did spend a few months at Bagan’s Durgapur academy, he primarily honed his skills after joining the Indian Arrows set up, an initiative of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
Bengal is used to producing players who are technically sound but that has not been the case recently. The other states, meanwhile, has continued to produce such talents.
Every day the Maidan continues to be thronged by thousands of amateur footballers who dream of taking up the sport professionally. It is high time that all the stakeholders draw up a well-thought-out course of action and persistently strived in implementing it to bring back the glory days of Bengal football.