Asia’s fiercest rivalry between two teams, known as Kolkata Derby or “Boro Match” during the continent’s oldest football league less than two months ago saw only three Bengalis in the Mohun Bagan squad, while there were even fewer in that of East Bengal’s
Two of the oldest clubs in Asia, Mohun Bagan AC and East Bengal FC, were once filled up with Bengali people as the latter were formed with the footballers only from East Bengal, now Bangladesh.
But Asia’s fiercest rivalry between two teams, known as Kolkata Derby or “Boro Match” during the continent’s oldest football league less than two months ago saw only three Bengalis in the Mohun Bagan squad, while there were even fewer in that of East Bengal’s.
The current squad of Mohun Bagan currently in Chittagong for the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup, consists only six Bengali players – three goalkeepers Debjit Majumder, Sankar Roy and Shilton Paul, right-back Arijit Bagui and midfielders Surabuddin Mollick and SK Sahil.
But only Debjit started Friday’s 1-0 win over the host, Chittagong Abahani Limited, to reach the semi-final.
The sub-continent’s football was all about Bengali people during the British rule and even for decades after 1947.
While talking to Dhaka Tribune, Mohun Bagan’s current team manager and the club’s tennis secretary Sanjay Ghosh said the presence of Bengali footballers in Indian football started to decrease from the mid-2000s.
“The Bengali footballers used to dominate India’s football scene during the 1970s and 1980s. It started to decrease from the middle of 2000s while the dominance of hilly footballers from north-east India increased ever since. And now, almost all Indian club boast players from the north-east region (Mizoram and Manipur, among others) because of a better supply line,” said Ghosh Saturday.
When India hosted Bangladesh during the 2022 World Cup and the Asian Cup 2023 joint qualifiers in Kolkata on October 15, only three Bengali footballers, all defenders – Subhasish Bose, Golui Sarthak and Pritam Kotal - were in the Indian squad but none made it to the starting XI.
“Bengalis are not coming to football because of the popularity of cricket and social circumstances. The parents now think if their son becomes a cricketer like Sourav Ganguly, then they have no tension. Once, five brothers in a village used to play football together and one of them would make it to the top level. Now, we only have eight to ten Bengali players in the team, while it’s even fewer in East Bengal,” Ghosh was at pains to explain.
Founded in 1889, Mohun Bagan have been facing a sponsor crisis in the last few years and last won the I-League in 2015-16, a year after Haitian international forward Sony Norde joined them after playing a key role in helping Sheikh Russel KC and Lt. Sheikh Jamal DC win the Bangladesh Premier League.
Ghosh also talked about the domination of foreign footballers, who have been increasing in number every year, since now.
As many as 10 Spanish footballers are strutting their stuff in Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
“The teams now have many foreign footballers who are making the difference. Chennai City became I-League champion last season riding on their foreign recruits. It’s also evident in Bangladesh,” Ghosh added.