IT'S NOT JUST bad form that plagues Mohun Bagan as they gear up to face Royal Wahingdoh in a must-win I-League clash at Barasat tonight. Among the many battles that the newly dethroned league leaders are engaged in are crucial injuries and lack of cash in hand.
With only one win in the last five back-to-back away games, the Kolkata side returns home with an uphill task ahead of them: they must win the next two matches if they are to stay in contention for the league title when they face off with defending champions Bengaluru FC at Kanteerava in a blockbuster “season finale” on May 31st. But as fans prepare to throng the local trains from Sealdah to make their way towards Barasat's Vidyasagar Stadium, injuries to key players have left their coach Sanjay Sen scowling.
The fan-favourite goalkeeper Debjit Majumdar sustained an injury during the match against Sporting Clube de Goa at Fatorda on Saturday. He chose not to seek immediate medical attention as the Green and Maroons were struggling to find a second equalizer at that time. Bagan lost that match and Debjit was left with a blood clot on his leg. Doctors have told him to take a week's bed rest, which rules him out for the next two matches, with slim chances of making a return in the last game at Bengaluru. Chances are, his season is over. This leaves the Bagan management with no option but to play Shilton Paul, the team's captain who has recently faced a lot of fire from fans after conceding against Bharat FC through a silly individual error. The Mariners' defense is already under a lot of pressure coming off two straight losses on the road, and the absence of Debjit at the post means they will miss the sense of security the youngster brought to the table for most of the season.
Furthermore, Denson Devdas picked up a knock at practice yesterday. The midfielder seems set to miss the starting line-up, but Sanjay Sen is likely to have him at hand on the bench, and use him in the second half in case he needs to revert to 4-3-3 in order to fetch an urgent goal.
And as if injuries at this critical juncture weren't trouble enough, the cash crunch at the club have reached a new crescendo. Many players and staff have not been paid for months (apparently Sony Norde has been personally helping a lot of players by lending money) and there have been multiple protests internally, including one right before the match against Mumbai FC at Cooperage. Whether this issue has contributed to the sudden downfall in Bagan's form is anybody's guess. But this time things are getting out of hand. The club's fitness trainer Djair de Miranda Garcia has not been able to pay his house rent for a while and this Monday his landlord threatened to evict him for that. Club officials immediately came to the rescue and took care of the situation but the word got out and added to the steadily rising pile of embarrassments the club has suffered in the last few months.
In the core of Bagan's financial woes lies the non-payment of sponsorship money by McDowell. This came after majority shares in the company were sold off by Vijay Mallya's UB Group to DIGO, which led to a legal mess over its administration. Mohun Bagan's newly re-elected club secretary Anjan Mitra has threatened to go to court to retrieve the money they are owed, but that is no immediate solution to the situation the club is in. Further woes have been added by the fact that a large sum in appearance fee from AIFF has been long overdue.
The club administration came under heavy fire of criticism when they spent 15 lakh rupees in the recently held club elections; but all that has died down as fans and critics alike gather to witness the last lap in the I-League title race. Mohun Bagan have backed themselves into a corner in all fronts and the only way out is to perform on the field. Perhaps sensing the situation, club official Balaram Chaudhuri (who ran unsuccessfully against club president Swapan Sadhan Basu in the elections) has announced a prize of Rs 25,000 for every goal scored in the remaining 3 matches, with added bonus for everyone if the league is won. Whether this added incentive will be enough motivation for the players to turn the season around, we will have to wait and see.