Ambitious Prayag United project needs consolation of IFA Shield success
Money doesn’t always guarantee success in football, and the cases of Chelsea, Manchester City, and most recently Paris Saint Germain are proof of the same. Each of those ambitious projects have taken time to produce results, with both Chelsea and City failing to win any silverware in their first season following new ownership. PSG too failed to land any trophies in their first season following the Qatari takeover.
This is actually United Sports Club’s second season with Prayag as sponsors, but it was only this season that the new sponsors invested heavily in the first team by signing a World Cupper, the top scorer of the last two I-League campaigns and two highly-rated India internationals.
But they haven’t been successful on the pitch, as they crashed out of the group stages of the Federation Cup and are already out of the I-League title race, currently occupying fifth spot on the table and lying nine points behind league leaders East Bengal.
There have been internal problems in the club also, with former coach Sanjoy Sen resigning earlier in the season after reported pressure from sponsors, while new coach Eelco Schattorie hasn’t always enjoyed good relations with stars like Carlos Hernandez and Ranti Martins. Hernandez’s reported pre-agreement with A-League club Wellington Phoenix for next season also hasn’t helped matters.
Schattorie should be given the freedom to build a team of his choice next season, and the sponsors must also be patient for I-League or Federation Cup success. However, such is the nature of Indian football, that Prayag desperately need some silverware this season, even if it’s the consolation of IFA Shield success.
With the I-League virtually having no financial returns for clubs, we have seen traditional clubs and former national champions like Mahindra United and JCT get disbanded. United Sports Club are nowhere near that possibility, but success on the pitch would certainly be a massive boost for their sponsors, who have splashed the cash to build one of the best teams in the country.
Prayag reached the final of the IFA Shield on Friday by beating the ‘B’ team of Costa Rican club Deportivo Saprissa 2-1 after extra time, and the tournament clearly presents their best chance to win a trophy this season, as they are four points behind leaders East Bengal in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) with only two rounds of matches remaining.
With the talent at their disposal, Prayag shouldn’t be getting carried away after reaching the final, but Schattorie must be given a lot of credit for taking some brave decisions. The Dutch coach has repeatedly kept India’s first-choice keeper Subrata Pal on the bench due to poor form, and he hasn’t thought twice about axing other stars when they haven’t delivered, like his decision in the semi-final to substitute the misfiring Ranti with Kayne Vincent, who eventually scored the winner in extra time.
Prayag, of course, do not have the history and fan following like the Big Three of Kolkata, but still have made an effort this season to build a fan base by involving local clubs all around the state of Bengal. Although members of those clubs possibly have East Bengal, Mohun Bagan or Mohammedan Sporting at heart, success for Prayag could see them get attracted towards the purple shirts even more.
Despite some controversies, Prayag United actually remain one of the best run clubs in the country, as they give a lot of importance to their youth teams. Also, one has never heard any of their players complain about a delay in the payment of salaries, something which even happens at top clubs like Mohun Bagan.
United Sports Club won the Durand Cup in 2010 with ‘Chirag’ as their sponsors, but they couldn’t use that as a springboard for further success after Prayag became their new sponsors in 2011. They have never won the IFA Shield, but have reached two finals previously, with the most recent one being last year, when they were beaten on penalties by East Bengal.
Either East Bengal or Mohun Bagan awaits Prayag in the final this time, and the club would be determined to break their IFA Shield duck and build from there for the future.