Mohammedan Sporting: All set for a return to the big league

Mohammedan Sporting, for the third year in a row, is eyeing the Calcutta Football League which will ensure their participation in I-League as one of the title contenders

Mohammedan Sporting players (Photo: Gautam Bhattacharyya)
Mohammedan Sporting players (Photo: Gautam Bhattacharyya)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The exploits of the Big Three of the City of Joy had been synonymous with its football folklore for well over a century. The black-and-white shirts of Mohammedan Sporting were as famous — and steeped in history — as Mohun Bagan and East Bengal as they continued to hold sway over the club football scene of India till the beginning of the new millennium.

Things started going downhill for Sporting, which became the first Indian club in 1934 to win the Calcutta League, as they could not cope with the rising overheads to run a professional outfit. There is finally some light at the end of the tunnel after nearly two decades, which has seen them suffer demotions in local and I-Leagues along with the decision to disband the senior team once in 2014.

It’s for the third year in a row that they are eyeing the CFL (Calcutta Football League) this season, which will ensure their participation in the I-League as one of the title contenders — even though their ultimate goal is to be a part of the premier Indian Super League (ISL). The club’s association with Bunkerhill, a leading sports management company, is showing the results while the current management has delivered in giving a major facelift to their tent and ancillary facilities.

“If Mohammedan Sporting can eventually play in the ISL with corporate back-up like the other Big Two, it will only help in raising the profile of the league as the team has a huge support base across the country. It’s extremely heartening to see the club on the recovery path and they need to continue in this vein,’’ Shabbir Ali, a Dhyan Chand awardee and former coach of the club, told National Herald.

There is no gainsaying that the CFL, once the oldest league in Asia, has lost a lot of it’s importance to the I-League and the ISL, but the on-pitch success over the last two years has played its part in at least boosting the morale of the fans. The current management, which has former Indian striker Dipendu Biswas as its football secretary, wears a positive outlook on their sleeves.

“Facilities are important of course, and we can see that the players really appreciate the efforts being made by the club. I would like to thank our partners for that. Ever since we unified as one management, we have been able to provide our players with top-class facilities,” remarked Ishtiyaq Ahmed, the club’s general secretary.

Biswas, one of the finest strikers in Indian football, who has donned the colours of all the Big Three, was appreciative of the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) recent rule changes — where clubs can only field players with Indian passports in the local leagues. This has produced an upsurge in the number of Indian players who have stood out in this season’s CFL.

Accolades of Mohammedan Sporting (Photo: Gautam Bhattacharyya)
Refurbished Mohammedan Sporting tent (Photo: Gautam Bhattacharyya)

Mohammedan Sporting’s David Lalhlansanga (six goals) and Beneston Barretto (five) are in the race for the top scorer’s award, being placed second and joint-third, respectively, on the list.

Speaking to the AIFF, Biwas had said: “I would like to thank the AIFF and President Kalyan Chaubey for introducing this rule. This has also made it an even fight between the clubs in the state leagues. Previously, big clubs like East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan would sign the top foreigners and be far ahead of everyone else. Now with only Indian players, things are more even.”

"If we can keep this up for a few years, I am sure we will find good players in key positions like centre forward, central midfield, and centre back,’’ he added.

The club management is also working towards increasing its footprint at the grassroots level with an academy in Gurugram and also putting add-ons to its existing academy in Kolkata.

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