EVEN AS MOHUN BAGAN prepare to leave for their all-or-nothing face off with Bengaluru FC with the league title on the line, both they and East Bengal have sprung into action at the transfer market in a bid to outdo each other and build a better team for next season, often fighting each other in a race to secure a player. Even though they cannot actually sign a player before June 1st, talks and negotiations are already in full swing.
The wheels came into motion when East Bengal striker Dudu Omagbemi demanded a raise that officials were reluctant to meet. With Ranty Martins set to continue with the Red and Golds for the next season, officials set out to find him a partner up front. Many names were discussed; from ex East Bengal fan favourite Tolgay Ozbey who is playing at Dempo right now to former Mohun Bagan striker Odafe Okolie who has just led a successful survival battle over at Sporting Clube de Goa. The latest rumours associate them with Liberian striker Edward Junior Wilson, who has previously led Indonesian Premier League side Semen Padang to championship. Currently he's playing at Malaysian side Felda United FC and reportedly he's going to cost East Bengal a record amount of money if the move goes through.
Speaking of record amount, Bangladeshi media is repeatedly claiming that Bangladesh Premier League side Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi are about to retrieve their ex superstar from Mohun Bagan for an unprecedented sum of money. Sony Norde has come out with the statement on the Mohun Bagan official site stating that he's all set to stay with the Green and Maroons but the clubs and the medias of the two countries have entered a battle over him and we won't know a clear winner until Norde puts pen on paper… wherever it may be.
Meanwhile, East Bengal attempted nothing less than a coup on their arch rivals over three Indian players Pritam Kotal, Ram Malik and Shouvik Ghosh. As all three started out as junior footballers at the Uttarpara Netaji Brigade, East Bengal officials approached their old coach Sanjay Chakraborty to have him urge them to switch clubs. The attempt fell flat as Sanjay declined them and all three footballers extended their contract with Mohun Bagan.
When it comes to coaches, there is little to be done at Mohun Bagan. Whether they win the league or not, Sanjay Sen is going to continue as their coach in the next season. East Bengal, however, are almost guaranteed to part with Dutch coach Eleco Schattorie at the end of the season. Many are in talks with the Red and Golds to assume the high-profile position next season, including ex coach and fan favourite Trevor James Morgan, but it's the ex Mohun Bagan and Pune FC coach Karim Bencherifa who is most likely to be Schattorie's successor. Interestingly, when Pune FC were playing East Bengal in Kolkata a few weeks ago, Karim wasn't at his usual place in the bench but on an official leave in Singapore. Pune FC won the match but it signified a break in the relationship between the club and Bencherifa.
Robin Singh's relationship with Bengaluru FC, too, is due to come to an end this summer. Sources tip him for a move to Mohun Bagan, but whether or not he will want to break the famed Sunil-Robin combo, something that works for the Indian national team as well, remains to be seen.
Of the foreign players in Mohun Bagan, Bello Razaq and Katsumi Yusa are all set to stay. Sony Norde, as per the club's claims, is also extending his contract. Pierre Boya, however, is leaving. If the Robin Singh move goes through, the Bagan officials may be fee to look for another defender from overseas and strengthen the team's rear. Building a stronger defense is even more necessary now because the Green and Maroons will play at the Asian level next year, something they have qualified for after six long years.
East Bengal, too, are looking to overhaul their team to put up a stronger title challenge next season. All foreigners except Ranry Martins are being released; which means Milan Susak and Leo Bertos will have to find a new club in the summer. They are extending the experienced goalie Abhra Mondal's contract and roping in Mumbai FC midfielder Asutosh Mehta. Mohun Bagan, on the other hand, is aiming to trap Rehnesh TP from Shillong Lajong and releasing players like Shilton Paul, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Denson Devdas and C. S. Sabeeth.
But the two clubs will face-off once again off the pitch in the race to sign Royal Wahingdoh winger Jackiechand Singh. The Manipuri youngster has seen a meteoric rise in the national scene, helping Wahingdoh gain a promotion from the 2nd Division and doing well in the top-tier league. He even bagged his national team debut in a World Cup Qualifier game against Nepal. Arguably, he is one of the most sought-after player in Indian football right now, along with Sandesh Jhingan and Eugeneson Lyngdoh, both of whom, incidentally, have held talks with Mohun Bagan officials for a potential move to the club. All in all, the already hot summer will be sent to simmering temperatures as the off-the-pitch aspects of football reach a crescendo, with clubs jostling each other all the way until the season kicks off in August with the Calcutta Football League.