Mohun Bagan and Karim Bencherifa – A love-hate relationship

Karim Bencherifa

Karim Bencherifa

Ask any Calcuttan and he will tell you that any Mohun Bagan versus East Bengal match generates tremendous hype.

The frenzy extends from the fish market where it is the prawn (Mohun Bagan’s mascot fish) being pitched against the hilsa (East Bengal’s mascot fish), to the stadium where the fan frenzy would reach its zenith with supporters reaching the venue in matadors, mini-vans and what not.

Club football in India has, in the recent years, seen a slight reversal of fortunes for the local clubs.

Speaking of local clubs, some of the names synonymous with club football in India is Kolkata based clubs Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and some other clubs like Churchill. Until a few years back, these clubs were under severe financial strain – they still are to a great extent – and the popularity of club football was dropping faster than a thermometer reading in Antarctica. However, with some much-needed capital injection into the system, the fate and quality of these clubs have improved.

The role of the manager in these teams is a manifold one. On one side, they have to deal with the management which is often ignorant of ground realities and on the other hand, keep disciplined the players with their over-inflated egos. One such interesting combination that is currently functional is the Mohun Bagan-Karim Bencherifa combination.

First, let us take a look at the club’s background and of its current manager.

Mohun Bagan

Popularly nicknamed the Mariners, this club was founded in 1889. The club is currently under the ownership of United Breweries group with Siddharth Mallya as its chairman. Among the oldest clubs of Asia, it has also been among the most successful clubs with trophies like the Federation Cup, Rovers Cup, Durand Cup, IFA Shield, National Football League and the Calcutta Football League in their kitty.

Mohun Bagan also holds the honour of being the first Indian team to defeat a European team. They defeated the East Yorkshire Regiment by a goal margin of 2-1 to lift the 1911 IFA Shield. However, the club has not seen the best of times lately, with the team finishing 10th in the last I-League season.

Karim Bencherifa

The Morocco born manager of Mohun Bagan is in his second term with the club, his first term being from 2008 to 2010, post which he moved to another club, Salgaocar. He returned to Mohun Bagan in 2012.

Uneasy times

Even though Karim was brought back to the club, not all is well within the Mohun Bagan camp. There has been constant friction between him and the management leading to intense speculation that the partnership might soon come to an end. The basic problem appears to be stemming from the fact that the goals and objectives of the two parties seem to be diametrically opposite.

With an almost complete lack of trophies being added in the last few years, the management is apparently looking for a quick-fix solution for some quick success. A flurry of player sign-ups and desperate changes have only heightened the sense of frustration and desperation in the Mariners.

Bencherifa, on the other hand, is more interested in looking at the larger picture and building a strong, well-rounded team that can compete at the competitive level of football with outstanding results. He is more interested in grooming young players and then letting them loose on the opposition. His stint at the helm of Salgaocar transformed the club in many ways, and made it into a name to reckon with.

The difference in attitude of the two sides was made apparent on talking to some people who follow club football.

“Karim can’t do anything with Mohun Bagan unless there is a more understanding and farsighted management running the club,” said Anindya Dasgupta, an avid follower of the club from London.

“They want to build a team that will give them instant success,” said Trinankur Bhattacharya, a fan who follows Mohun Bagan matches religiously.

Another major reason for this desire for quick success stems from the fact that arch-rivals of the club, East Bengal, are performing significantly better. “The management’s policy at both these clubs are the same, but, East Bengal are at he moment performing slightly better,” grudgingly conceded Anindya.

I-League Match In Kolkata

“Karim won’t have to leave Mohun Bagan. The club will soon get rid of him,” an East Bengal fan said with disdain.

While it seems very easy to heap all the blame on the club, another aspect that needs to be kept in mind is that it takes two to tango.

Karim’s goals, objectives and visions for the club and the level to which he intends to take it are all well-intentioned. However, he needs to realize that he has been brought back on board with a very specific target, and that, in all likelihood, among other things is to ensure that the club gets back to its winning ways at the earliest.

On the other hand, the club needs to realise that making good footballers out of very ordinary ones with extremely limited resources and more importantly, creating a good team which is solid in defence, aggressive in its attack and impregnable in its mid-field is a task that is easier said than done. To compromise on that to just look at the here and the now is silly, to say the least.

Both sides need to carefully re-think their goals and be more accommodating towards the other party’s goals. In light of the current impasse, contemplation on a probable middle path is probably the best option for all those who have the club’s interests at heart.

In the current situation, Mohun Bagan for its own good, should retain Bencherifa, though, the current stand-off does not augur well for a long relationship between the club and Karim Bencherifa.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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