Diamond System: Can it make the Mariners sparkle again?
‘My dream is to see a high quality match with Mohun Bagan winning it’ - Karim Bencherifa
Well, neither happened. The much-hyped return leg between the Kolkata Giants fell way short of the expectation with only about 30,000 fanatics turning up at the Salt Lake Stadium. It was an astonishing figure taking into account the incident that transpired in the last Derby. Exactly two months ago, the same venue witnessed an ugly incident of fan violence that led to a serious injury to Syed Rahim Nabi and Mohun Bagan‘s ban, that was later revoked by the AIFF.
Mohun Bagan has made big news this year but for all the wrong reasons. Be it the Tolgay Ozbey signing fiasco or the stone pelting clash in the last Derby, the National Club of India has been at the receiving end of the stick. They have fired coaches, been docked points and now are struggling to avoid relegation in the I-League. It’s been a pattern with the side for some years and now the faith of the staunch Mohun Baganis has also started to waver that wee bit. However, the 9th February Derby was the Mariner’s shot at redemption. The last derby was a disaster and they needed a quick fix for their leaky boat. The Mohun Bagan coach, Karim Bencharifa, took a step forward and implemented the Diamond System.
The Diamond System in Indian football goes back a long way. 16 years ago, Amal Dutta implemented the same to surprise many in the Indian football circuit. In 1997, when Amal Dutta was appointed as the Mohun Bagan coach, he announced his arrival by breaking the traditional 4-4-2 mindset with this new formation. The opposition teams were taken aback by this sudden change and Mohun Bagan looked a cut above the rest.
However, the start was disastrous. In the first Derby of the season, Bhaichung Bhutia single handedly sank the Mariners with a hat-trick in front of a packed Yuva Bharati. The players couldn’t adjust to the new formation and Amal Dutta came under severe criticism. The veteran coach didn’t react, smiled and said, “The team lost, not the system…” And then the Diamond sparkled. Mohun Bagan went on a rampage, ravaged the opposition and scored heavily, displaying the most entertaining form of football. Though the formation was shelved after Dutta was fired, it was one of the biggest tactical moves ever made in Indian club football.
16 years later, Karim Bencherifa had decided to try it out again to save the season for the Mariners. Mohun Bagan are in troubled waters after being docked points in the I- League and a new brand of attacking football might just help to revive their campaign. However, there are a few fundamental differences in Dutta’s Diamond and that of the Moroccan coach. Amal Dutta’s side lined up as 1-3-1-3-2 whereas Bencherifa’s Bagan keeps juggling between the more popular 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1 formations. Though both systems are fluid and the team keeps changing its shape, Dutta’s formation was more attack minded. His system had two fixed strikers whereas this side has Odafa, Tolgay and Manish Bhargav switching positions up front. Even in this game against East Bengal, Bencherifa started off with a 4-3-3 formation. Odafa and Tolgay operated on the flanks while Bhargav was stationed in a slightly withdrawn role behind the front two.
So what went wrong against the arch rivals? Nothing much. Chances were created and the Mariners definitely had the upper hand. They were the more attacking side and had their moments in the match. Odafa’s free kick hit the post while Tolgay was unlucky when the referee turned down a penalty kick appeal. However, for the most of the match, the ball got stuck in the midfield jungle and both teams struggled to gain any advantage at the middle of the park.
That’s where Amal Dutta’s formation came up trumps. His system always provided for an extra man. Whether be in attack or defence, Mohun Bagan always had an edge over the opponent. Back in 1997, the Mariners’ midfield boasted of players like Satyajit Chatterjee, Amit Das and Basudeb Mondal, who had enough quality and game sense to adapt to the new system. While Das and Chatterjee had fixed roles, Mondal played the role of the roving mid fielder. Whether breaking up an opposition attack or building one for his team, Mondal played the role to perfection and the Diamond sparkled to dazzle the opposition. Chima Okorie bulldozed his way through defences while Khalique, the second striker, tormented the defenders with his snappy runs. The defence gelled well too. Though they always held a high line, there was always a sweeper who fell back to do the mop up. That extra man in defence allowed the wing backs to express themselves, stretch defences and contribute more in the attacking third.
This team, however, has a different set of players and so has to adapt to a different version of the Diamond. The likes of Bhargav, Maithani, Jewel Raja and Denson Devdas are yet to make their mark in the Kolkata maidan and definitely need time to even come close to the likes of Satyajit Chatterjee, Amit Das and Basudeb Mondal. Odafa is dangerous but Chima Okerie tore apart sides at will. Tolgay looked mobile but isn’t at his best yet.
Though the Kolkata derby ended in a dull goalless draw, there were enough positives for the Mariners. The midfield was tight, the defence held up and the strike partnership showed signs of things to come. They might be on the back foot in the I-League but they have had big wins in the Calcutta Premier League playing with the new formation. Karim Bencherifa will take this point gleefully because let’s not forget they were up against the I-League leaders. The Mariners did well to hold the Red and Gold Brigade and they are showing signs of settling down. If the players respond to Bencherifa and the officials have faith in him, the Moroccan might just be able to use his Diamond System to get back the Mariners to their sparkling best!