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Santosh Trophy remains a big supply line: Shabbir Ali

386   //    18 Mar 2018, 17:43 IST

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Kolkata, Mar 18 (PTI) The national football championship for the Santosh Trophy may have lost its sheen to the likes of I-League and Indian Super League, but two-time winning coach Shabbir Ali feels it remains a supply line of players at the national level.

Ali was given the task to coach Bengal in 2009-10 when Kolkata last hosted the tournament, and guided the team to a second successive title.

In 2011, he was bestowed with the coveted Dhyan Chand award.

Fancied Bengal had not won the national football championships for 10 years and the former India captain was given the task to end the prolonged drought. Bengal not only reclaimed the trophy but players like Arnab Mondal, Robin Singh, Denson Devadas and Shankar Oraon established themselves at the national level.

"I was missing two of my key players. Abhijit Mondal, who sustained an arm injury during training, while Lalkamal Bhowmick was also left out," Ali told PTI from Hyderabad, on the eve of the 72nd edition of the Santosh Trophy that's getting underway here tomorrow.

"Singh had just graduated from Tata Football Academy, then there was Devadas and Dhanrajan from Kerala. All of them were plying trades in Kolkata and were unwanted by their respective states. All of them rose the occasion and came into national reckoning. Many youngsters came up from the tournament."

Speaking about the relevance of the tournament, he said, "I've always maintained, Santosh Trophy is one of the key tournaments of Indian football. I had said this during my interaction with former coach Bob Houghton.

"There may be I-League and ISL, but there are many states which do not have any club in the two top tier tournaments. Santosh Trophy has a true pan-India presence to scout talents."

Ali firmly believes Bengal have it in them to replicate the success, even as gaffer Ranjan Chowdhury is grappling with lack of preparation.

In his advice to his former ward Chowdhury, who played under him for India and later became his colleague at Allahabad Bank, Ali said: "I know him. He's a cool-headed person and fit for the job, that's why he was given the task. It's about getting the best out of your resources.

"Every time Bengal go and play in Santosh Trophy there will be pressure. In a team game, you never get a perfect scenario but you make the best possible use of your resources."

"I hope all of them realise the importance of the tournament and play to win it for Bengal. I cannot comment much of the team as I've not been following them. But they will have to play keeping Bengal's rich history in mind.

"The boys will get demoralised if you keep on telling them that the number one player is missing. You have to give them a good mental space to play freely."

Punjab were overwhelming favourites in the final but Bengal defied all odds and rode on a brace by Kerala's Devadas to reclaim the trophy after a decade.

"Similarly in the next edition in Guwahati, Manipur were the favourites and I found a winner in Goa's Branco Cardozo who scored one of the two goals in the 2-1 win," he recalled.

"Pressure will always be on Bengal and all the teams will be keen to dethrone them but it's about rising to the occasion."

Ali had suffered a heart attack in September 2013 in Kolkata and had a bypass surgery, following which he moved to stay with his family in Hyderabad in early 2016.

Ali was the coach of the Telangana team that failed to qualify but he's still a Kolkatan at heart.

"I cannot forget what Bengal has given me. I will always continue to support Bengal. My best wishes to the team, hope they keep the Bengal flag flying high," he concluded

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