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IFA Shield: Mohun Bagan's attempt at salvation

The two talismanic teams of India’s football city, Kolkata, take to the field at Yuva Bharati Krirangan today to add a new chapter to their prolonged and history laden rivalry in the semi-finals of the IFA Shield. While East Bengal may look at the Shield as a chance to add to their their haul of silverware this season after winning the Federation Cup and being in pole position to win their 34th Kolkata Football league, the picture in front of their bitter rivals Mohun Bagan portrays colours of stark contrast.

Without a trophy in their last two seasons and quickly losing the faith of their own fans due to ineptness both on and off the field, Mohun Bagan look to the IFA Shield as the salvation to their much maligned season.

What began as a season of hope quickly faded into an obituary for the Mariners. Tolgay Ozbey was supposed to give Mohun Bagan the killer punch upfront, playing alongside the mercurial Odafe Okolie. The prodigious talents of Jewel Raja, Manish Mathani and others given the opportunity and time were supposed to kick on from the promises that they laid to bear from the  season before.

As it has happened on a number of occasions in the recent past for the Maroon and Green, all went wrong. Somehow, the officials always manage to screw it all up and this year’s process began with the bewildering decision to dismiss their beloved son Subrata Bhattacharya,  who had served admirably as their Technical Director last season. In came Santosh Kashyap, a man without much to talk of past accomplishments and seemed caught off-guard of the huge pressures that comes with the job at the helm of this powerhouse of a club and in time, soon enough, he departed to make way for the old guard Karim Bencherifa.

If the constant disruption in playing styles weren’t worries enough, the new crorepati of Indian football, Tolgay Ozbey’s injuries resulted in him missing large parts of the early season which resulted in an attack that was blunt as a hammer. Odafe tried to guide the Mariners’ ship ashore but with tentative displays from the likes of Jewel Raja, Manish Mathani and other in midfield, and an oft-erring defense that bordered on paralysis, not much hope remained.

Then came the big bang on December 9, 2012 when the club officials decided not to send the team out for the second half of their derby against East Bengal citing crowd trouble as Syed Rahim Nabi lay in a hospital bed injured, from missiles from their own crowd.  Both a goal and a man down at the half and after play had resumed following the Nabi incident, the decision looked iffy at best. What followed was Indian football’s biggest tango of this century. Suspended initially by the AIFF for a period and two and a half years, only to later reprimanded but having all their points in the I-League wiped clean, the embarrassment and the punishment were inconsolable.

At the end of it all, the proud colours of Green and Maroon that represent more than any ordinary club colours had been dragged through the dirt and the pride that it has bestowed upon its fans for centuries, heckled and scorned.

The Shield might yet be a distraction for East Bengal who have bigger fishes to fry in the AFC Cup but for Mohun Bagan, it should mean the world to them. Unable to field a team in last year’s edition in the trophy that built its identity was an embarrassment in itself. But the officials made that look minuscule after the antics they have managed to pull off this season.

Its a chance for the Mariners to put itself right once and for all. The IFA Shield should matter to them more than anyone else this season. The fans, which they have so easily managed to cast away, need to be taken back in faith. They need this to resurrect the spirit of the players as they prepare for the battle for their existence in the I-League.

They need it bad, they need it now.

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