Uga Okpara, the East Bengal’s Nigerian defender, feels it is high time for the club’s top brass to set their focus on the team’s progress in the ongoing AFC Cup. East Bengal has advanced to the last sixteen phase of the ongoing AFC Cup after a span of almost 10 years. In 2003, the red-and-gold qualified for the knock-out stage for the last time.
Okpara, who has been reliable in the team’s central defence throughout the season, said, “I feel it has been the most precious achievement in my last two years with the red-and-gold. We earned qualification for the knock-out stage of the AFC Cup. At the same time we are in the race for the ongoing I-League title. It should be ascribed a rare achievement for all of us. And I personally feel the club, in near future, should set its mind on an intensive preparation for the AFC Cup. Unless you can prove yourself in an international championship, your identity won’t be established.”
Okpara seems optimistic that his teammates also should be psychologically focused to win the race for League title as well as move up in the AFC Cup. East Bengal defender also explained, “And now the club’s top bosses must think over their policy of giving priority to the tournaments the senior team participates throughout the season.”
Okpara hinted that playing in the local football league always adds additional mental stress. “The club must make a strategy that if three tournaments like I-League, AFC Cup and Kolkata Premier League run simultaneously, then the club must listen to coach’s suggestion, choosing separate players for separate tournaments. You cannot change the team that would play in the AFC Cup and in the I-League. But you can easily field the team’s a few young and promising players for the Kolkata Premier League,” explained Okpara.
Trevor James Morgan, the team’s British coach started in the same manner in the Kolkata Premier League this season by playing the team’s young and promising footballers. But as the league wore on, the coach had to change his policy following pressure from the club officials as well as from the members also.
Having played four group league matches already in the AFC Cup, Okpara feels Selangor FA, the Malaysian side has been the most difficult team to beat in their group. Okpara said, “I don’t know how the team is conceding defeats. But so far I have envisaged the other teams in our group, and Selangor FA looked solid.” The red-and-gold brigade will be playing its away match against Selangor in its away match on April 23.
When asked about his plans to continue with East Bengal even in the next season, Okpara smiled and commented, “Firstly, I have not yet been approached by the club for my future in the club next season. But I am happy to be here. At the same time, my agent in Nigeria is trying for me in a few South-Asian clubs. If finally, the East Bengal offer doesn’t suit me, then you can see me in any South-Asian team next season.”