THE FIRST KOLKATA DERBY of the season is now less than 10 days away. On 6th September, the two arch-rivals will face each other for the first time in the 2014-15 football season in a Calcutta Football League (Premier Division A) encounter.
The Salt Lake Stadium, that has recently undergone major transformation to in preparation for hosting 2017 U-17 World Cup matches including a newly laid natural grass turf, will have its post-makeover unveiling on this occasion, with this prestigious and high-voltage fixture.
Many have expected this Derby to be the title-deciding encounter in the CFL. While that is still a mathematical possibility, it seems less likely thanks to East Bengal having taken a significant lead over Mohun Bagan in the league table early on. But nonetheless, the match is significant for its own sake, with the two giants of Indian football fighting for pride as always.
Although the CFL is already halfway through, the two clubs are far from having a finalized team. Mohun Bagan are playing with some half a dozen first team probables supplemented by reserve squad members and academy graduates, most of whom are obviously not ready for first team football in the I-League and ACL at this moment. The squad will be bolstered when the players on duty at ISL and national team come back but for now they need reinforcement, especially in the defence, where their new signing Gustavo Silva has been a disappointment. And it appears that Gustavo's long-rumoured replacement will arrive in the city tomorrow.
The player in question is Judelin Aveska. He is a Haitian international, and a close friend of Sony Norde. During the recently concluded CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament Norde even uploaded a picture of himself and Judelin on Facebook and commented, "New defender of Mohun Bagan." It was mostly perceived as a joke back then but turns out he was being serious.
Jdelin Aveska, although a Haitian, has spent his entire club career in Argentina. His senior career started off at Primeira B Nacional (second tier league of Argentina) club Independiente Rivadavia during the 2008-09 season, and he was soon made a regular face in the starting line up. He went on to earn 83 league caps for Rivadavia before moving on to Gimnasia Jujury in the same league. At Jujury he saw his playing time diminish, and had to sign for a lower league side, Juventud Unida Universitario, in the summer. Although he has never played top division football in Argentina and his performance graph has been downhill over th last few years, there is no doubt that the 27 year old 6 foot tall defender can be be very effective in the Mohun Bagan defence. He has been playing for the Haiti national team since 2009, having earned 34 caps so far.
While on the other end, East Bengal are adding more vitality to their midfield by poaching yet another player from their arch rivals Mohun Bagan. They have already signed Bello Razaq, the defender who scored the title clinching goal the I-League, from Mohun Bagan. But the signing of Sehnaj Singh, a 22 year old central midfielder whose career graph is obviously on the up, might just prove to be the more significant transfer move.
A product of the Gurdaspur and Chandigarh football academies, Sehnaj played professionally for AIFF's pet project Pailan Arrows. His performance was eye-catching enough to earn him a lucrative contract at newly formed Mumbai Tigers. After a season in the 2nd Division League the club folded, and Sehnaj joined Mumbai FC. But his big break came when Mohun Bagan signed him in summer 2014. He made 18 appearances in the club's title-winning campaign, scoring once, and earning a draft pick by Delhi Dynamos in the ISL Domestic Draft 2015. He even got his Indian senior team debut in 2015.
It is unlikely that Sehnaj Singh will join East Bengal during CFL. He is away at the Delhi Dynamos camp preparing for ISL, and will only be available for the I-League. But the tension created around his club switch adds to the heat around the Derby nonetheless.
The CFL Derby last season ended in a 3-2 victory for East Bengal. But the two Derbies in I-League resulted in a win for Mohun Bagan and a draw. The Red and Golds will be eager to win this one to make their 6th straight CFL title victory official, while the Green and Maroons will be vying to come out on top to restore pride, even if they end up missing out on the title. But one thing is for sure, once these hardened rivals take to the pitch on 6th September, all records, points and statistics will go out of the window, to make way for a contest of pure will; a battle of wit and grit.