The past couple of years have been a roller-coaster ride for Subha Ghosh. The sprightly forward, who shot to fame as a super-sub for Kibu Vicuna’s Mohun Bagan in their victorious 2019-20 I-League campaign, has shockingly played only 63 minutes since moving to the Indian Super League (ISL).
A product of the Mohun Bagan academy, Ghosh grabbed eyeballs by finishing as the top scorer in the Zee Bangla U-19 Premier League in 2019. Although the final between the Mariners and arch-rivals East Bengal was left undecided due to fan unrest, the young striker’s appetite for goals saw him graduate to Bagan’s senior squad that year, along with fellow striker Kiyan Nassiri and midfielder Sheikh Sahil.
Ghosh made his competitive debut for the Mariners’ first team during the 2019 Durand Cup, but it was in the I-League that he unleashed his full potential. Realizing that he was a raw talent who needed plenty of polishing, Vicuna deployed Ghosh as an impact substitution, and what an effective strategy it turned out to be.
Making eight appearances in the I-League that season, Ghosh netted three goals, including a crucial 88th minute equalizer against Punjab FC (then Minerva Punjab) that helped Mohun Bagan consolidate their position at the top of the table.
Following the merger between ATK FC and Mohun Bagan’s football section, Ghosh was retained by ATK Mohun Bagan for the 2020-21 edition of the ISL, but he didn’t get any game under former ATKMB head coach Antonio Lopez Habas. The lack of playing time led him to reunite with Vicuna at Kerala Blasters FC as part of a swap deal with Nongdamba Naorem in December 2020.
However, in a strange twist of fate, it was later discovered that Naorem had an ACL tear, which prompted ATKMB to cancel Ghosh’s transfer in the Centralised Registration System (CRS). The dispute went through AIFF’s Player Status Committee and took two months to be resolved. Ghosh was the worst sufferer due to the controversy as he missed the entire season for no fault of his own.
The 2021-22 season delivered an even bigger blow to the pacey forward’s career after he joined SC East Bengal on a season-long loan deal. Ghosh’s arrival sparked massive excitement among the Red and Gold faithful, but he was axed from the final squad by former SCEB head coach Manolo Diaz even before the season began.
After Diaz’s sacking, Mario Rivera took charge of the beleaguered side and recalled Ghosh at SCEB advisor Srenik Sett’s behest. He made three appearances at the business end of the league phase, but it surely wasn’t enough for a youngster who was desperate for more game time.
The Shyamnagar-born footballer now wants to put the horrid experience behind him and focus on the road that lies ahead. Knowing well that speed and positioning are his strengths, the 21-year-old is leaving no stone unturned to gain extra muscle that will add power to his game.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, Ghosh, who still has a year left on his contract with KBFC, explained his way of coping with hard times and recounted the experience of interacting with his idol Sunil Chhetri. Here are the excerpts:
Q: How are you keeping yourself fit in the off season?
Ghosh: I go to a nearby ground for my morning practice and a gym in the evening for strength training and workout. Since I’m not getting any team practice right now, this is how I’m keeping myself fit.
Q: Despite making a dream start to your professional career, you’ve played only a few minutes of top-flight football since March 2020. Surely the past couple of years must have been very difficult for you to endure…
Ghosh: Every footballer experiences ups and downs, so I don’t let these incidents bother me too much. I know I have some deficiencies and I’m working on them. Only the ground and the gym can help me deal with this phase. I’m not someone who’ll surrender easily because I’ve struggled a lot to become a professional footballer.
I was just waiting for an opportunity while I was out of the SC East Bengal team. It’s up to the head coach to decide who’ll fit his combination and who won’t, but a player has to keep working hard. I did just that, but perhaps our coach Manolo Diaz had other ideas.
I was at my lowest point at the time, but seniors like Arindam [Bhattacharya] da motivated me. I did well in the pre-season friendlies, yet the coach didn’t want to keep me in his 24-member squad. I told him that I wouldn’t get an I-League club as I was on loan, but he didn’t care.
I played 60 minutes of our final league game against Bengaluru FC and my childhood coaches told me that I did quite well. Being a striker, I should’ve scored, but the match was a big confidence booster for me. I really wanted to give my best for SC East Bengal.
Q: What about the controversial swap deal with Nongdamba Naorem that didn’t allow you to play for Kerala Blasters FC?
Ghosh: It was an unfortunate incident, one that I don’t want to remember. In hindsight, I do regret the swap deal. I went to Kerala Blasters only because of Kibu [Vicuna] sir and I’m sure I would’ve played there regularly had the transfer problem not arisen. Maybe I could’ve established myself in the ATK Mohun Bagan XI by now had the swap never happened.
Q: You look up to Kibu Vicuna as your mentor. Do you still talk to him over the phone?
Ghosh: Kibu sir is a great human being. He has taught youngsters like me and Kiyan to remain focused and not let the outside noise affect us. He has supported me through thick and thin. He always tells me that I have a lot of talent and that I should train harder instead of giving up.
Q: What if Vicuna takes charge of an I-League team next season and asks you to join him there? Will you be prepared to leave the ISL and return to the less glamorous I-League?
Ghosh: Look, we’re professional footballers, so we know how to adapt [to different leagues]. I won’t get Kibu sir everywhere, will I? Whatever I’m today, it’s because of him. There were many senior players in that Mohun Bagan team, but he put his faith in me in tough situations, knowing that I would deliver. Not many foreign coaches back young Indian players like that.
Q: At this stage of your career, what would you prefer more – a lucrative offer from an ISL team, or more game time?
Ghosh: I just want more game time at the moment.
Q: You played against your idol Sunil Chhetri when SC East Bengal took on Bengaluru FC in their last match of ISL 2021-22. How was the experience and what did he tell you?
Ghosh: The experience was fantastic! I’ve been following Chhetri bhai since childhood and my father has always wanted me to emulate him. I waited a long time to meet him. While playing for ATK Mohun Bagan, I was confident about meeting him during one of our two ISL games against Bengaluru FC that season. That, however, didn’t happen. Then I couldn’t play at all after moving to Kerala Blasters (laughs)! After waiting nearly two years, I finally met my God in March 2022 (grins).
From the moment I stepped on the pitch, I kept looking at Chhetri bhai. I didn’t allow any of my teammates to mark him. I had told them that I would only mark him and prevent him from scoring (laughs)! After the match, Chhetri bhai gave me priceless advice - "vent your anger on the pitch and in the gym, nowhere else". He said that even while facing Sunil Chhetri, you should believe that you’re the best player on the day. We had the whole conversation in Bengali. I’m getting goosebumps.
Q: You also went for the trials of Mohammedan Sporting Club (MDSP) in December. What happened there?
Ghosh: I went for the trial and scored a couple of goals in a practice match, but their coach [Andrey Chernyshov] told me that he couldn’t include me as they already had a settled squad. What was the need to call me then?
Q: Your critics say that you’re undisciplined. How would you respond to this allegation?
Ghosh: I only focus on my game and strive to become a better version of myself. Let the critics say what they have to; I don’t pay heed to them. I’ve just started my career. I’m a 21-year-old who has only won an I-League title, so what do I have to be complacent about?
I’m not going through a good phase at present and hence many people are saying many things. If I score a hat-trick in the Kolkata derby tomorrow, the same people will go gaga over me. If a senior player scolds me, saying that I’m doing something wrong, I’ll bow my head and listen to him. I always try to be humble, I swear to God.
Q: You created ample buzz as a super-sub in your debut season, but in recent times, Kiyan Nassiri and Ishan Pandita have revelled more in this role. Do you think you have fallen behind in the race?
Ghosh: Both Kiyan and Ishan are very talented. I've scored goals in the I-League, but they’ve scored in the ISL. I can’t deny that they’ve gone a step ahead. Their success motivates me to work harder, but I like to compete with the seniors more. You need to set the benchmark high in order to be successful. Kiyan and Sahil are my childhood friends, so whenever they perform well nobody is happier than me. I’ve seen how much effort Kiyan has put in to reach this level. I love pulling his leg though (guffaws).