I-League success with Churchill Brothers would restore Subhash Bhowmick’s reputation
When great Indian club teams are discussed, one has to mention the East Bengal side between 2002 and 2004. For many, that team, coached by Subhas Bhowmick, was arguably the greatest in the National Football League/I-League era as they won back-to-back NFL titles and to top it all, they also had continental success in the form of the 2003 ASEAN Cup.
That tournament was won by beating Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana, who had reached the Asian Champions League final later that year and East Bengal continued to show their pedigree in the continent next season also as they reached the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup before losing to eventual champions Al Jaish of Syria.
Subhash Bhowmick had an embarrassment of riches for two years as the squad had some of the best Indian players and quality foreigners. That side was destined for further success at domestic and Asian level but with no club elections on the horizon, the officials failed to hold on to the best players for the 2004-05 season, where East Bengal finished a disappointing third.
Bhowmick was struggling to build a strong team for the 2005-06 NFL campaign also and just a few weeks before the start of the domestic league, the former India international was arrested for being allegedly involved in a bribery scandal. Bhowmick resigned as East Bengal coach following that controversy and his reputation on the pitch has been taking a beating ever since.
Between that resignation at East Bengal and taking over his current role as technical director of Churchill Brothers, Bhowmick had worked at four different clubs including East Bengal but failed to get the desired results everywhere.
The former striker took charge of Mohammedan Sporting in 2006 but failed to deliver the goods there and didn’t last long. He then became the technical director of relegation-threatened Salgaocar midway through the 2007-08 I-League but couldn’t guide them to safety.
Bhowmick returned to East Bengal for his third spell in December 2008 and helped them to restore some pride after a difficult start to the season under Stanley Rozario. A 3-0 win over arch-rivals Mohun Bagan was the highlight of that season but all that good work ended on October 25 2009 when East Bengal conceded five goals for the first time against their arch-rivals, losing 5-3. Bhowmick, unsurprisingly, resigned.
It didn’t take him long to return to management as he once again replaced Stanley Rozario, this time as technical director of Mohun Bagan midway through the 2010-11 season. He guided the Mariners to a fourth place finish but failed to win a trophy and thus didn’t get a permanent job the following season.
In February 2012, Bhowmick was appointed as the technical director of Churchill Brothers following the removal of Manuel Gomes. Bhowmick guided them to a creditable third place finish and was retained as the technical director for the 2012-13 season and it’s at this Goan club that this highly successful coach can finally restore his reputation.
Following their goalless draw against Salgaocar on Wednesday, Churchill are three points clear at the top with five games remaining and if Bhowmick can land the Goan club’s second-ever top flight title, he will become the first coach to win the Indian domestic league title with two different clubs.
As AFC guidelines require all I-League clubs to have licensed head coaches, Mariano Dias is the official head coach at Churchill, but technical director Bhowmick is the main man in the Goan outfit’s coaching staff.
Despite taking over in the middle of last season, Bhowmick kept Churchill in the title race until the last month of the campaign and this time he has made them the favourites going into the business end, thanks to some shrewd acquisitions and trademark man management skills.
The former East Bengal and Mohun Bagan player roped in Sandip Nandy, who many felt was finished at East Bengal last season but has turned out to be one of the best keepers of this campaign and also earned a recall to the national team. The addition of veteran Tomba Singh also added some much needed experience to the side, while Bhowmick has also got the best out of stars like Beto and Henri Antchouet while Steven Dias and Dharmaraj Ravanan have rediscovered themselves.
During his glory days at East Bengal, Bhowmick was well known for immaculately preparing the team and taking the pressure away from his players. Any avid Indian football follower would remember Bhowmick keeping the East Bengal squad together in a five-star hotel ahead of the ASEAN Cup campaign, something which was never seen before in Indian club football.
Similarly this time, Bhowmick produced a master stroke by keeping the entire Churchill squad away from the media glare of Kolkata in Joka (at Pailan Arrows’ base) before the potential title decider against East Bengal. Churchill won that game 3-0 and it could still prove to be a decisive result.
The setbacks for Bhowmick’s I-League title challenge at Churchill were the sudden need for replacing the two in-form Lebanese internationals Bilal Najjarin and Akram Moghrabi for different reasons and the distraction of the AFC Cup, as Churchill only made it to the tournament following Dempo’s last-minute withdrawal.
Those factors have unsettled Churchill a bit in the second half of the season and the AFC Cup involvement could bring fatigue into the equation in the final weeks. But the experience of Bhowmick of previous title races will certainly give the Goan club an edge in the run-in and if the ASEAN Cup winning coach manages to take Churchill over the finishing line this time, his road to redemption will be complete.