DAYS AFTER MOHUN BAGAN coach Sanjay Sen created a stir in the football community by openly criticising the youth development efforts of the three major Kolkata clubs, he has backed down from those comments and apologised.
The I-League winning coach has always been outspoken, and is self-admittedly averse to the idea of being anyone's "yes man." Time and again his comments have sparked controversy. Only a week ago he caused a stir when he called the Indian Super League a "circus".
Sen was asked about the state of youth and grassroots development in Kolkata football at a press meet. His reply was straight and simple:
"It's up to the clubs to bring up new players. The teen pradhan (Three major Kolkata clubs, namely East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting) are always busy with history and tradition. Where's the concern for the future? What are these officials who hold onto their posts year after year doing? They don't even have their own grounds. It's become a norm to rent some boys to make age-restricted teams for club licensing purposes... only the media can do something about it... without proper infrastructure talent cannot be nurtured."
It was immediately clear that Sen's comments had ruffled some feathers. Mohun Bagan's Football Secretary and ex player Satyajit Chatterjee was quick to distance himself from the coach's words:
"He has given his own opinion. It's a free country and everyone has that right. But players like Bhaskar Ganguly and Chuni Goswami came out of our youth system, so I can't agree that we never had youth development here... Mohun Bagan has been running an academy for the last 18 years. Financial difficulties often make it hard to implement necessary changes to the system."
One of the players mentioned by Chatterjee, ex Mohun Bagan and India captain Chuni Goswami, was vocal in his disagreement with Sen's comments.
"Sanjay knows nothing about our history. He said those words in a very bad way. I came up from the Mohun Bagan junior team. So did players like Ashok Chatterjee and Kajol Mukherjee... the criticism was in a bad taste."
Ex Mohun Bagan player and coach Subrata Mukherjee, who recently led the opposition coalition in the club's general elections, stood by Sanjay Sen's comments and justified them:
"Sanjay is right. He did a good thing by saying it... but since he is a coach at Mohun Bagan he could have avoided naming them in his comments."
Officials at East Bengal have not taken kindly to Sen's comments. Newly appointed Red and Gold coach Biswajit Bhattacharya distanced himself from Sen's sentiments, and club official Kalyan Majumdar offered a more confrontational reply,
"He has no right to talk about our club. Who is he, Alex Ferguson? He won some trophy and now his feet are not touching the ground."
Later on he vent more anger at Sen, defiantly adding,
"I challenge Sanjay to uproot us from our posts. The officials he has talked about getting rid of, will his hands shake when accepting his salary cheque from those same officials?"
Although many Mohun Bagan fans agreed with Sen's sentiments, there was a consensus on social media that he should not have made those comments. Those who disagreed with him led a concerted backlash. A list naming 40 players from Mohun Bagan youth academy who are currently playing in different I-League and CFL clubs went viral on Facebook and WhatsApp.
Perhaps it was this opposite tide of opinion that led Sanjay Sen to recant his statement two days later. At the Mohun Bagan tent he told journalists,
"It's not the media's fault, it was me who explained the matter wrong. If my comments have saddened or hurt anybody, I apologise for that. Please don't make any more controversy about this... it was not my intention to demean someone."
Sen said he wanted to put all this behind and concentrate on the road ahead,
"The pre-season starts in a few days, then the Calcutta Football League. We have a tough season ahead and that's what I'm looking forward to. Anything that happened before is in the past."
When an East Bengal official was asked by reporters if it was still possible for Sanjay Sen to become the East Bengal coach in the future after all that has been said, he replied, "Why not?"