"The Elephant sinks the Mariners Boat"| Mohun Bagan SG vs Kerala Blasters FC| ISL 2023-24 Review

What comes to your mind when someone asks you, what does Indian Football mean to you? Fandom, passion, local heroes, stories of struggle, the stories of making it through conditions no one ever exacted you to make it through. India, for as diverse it is in her culture and ethnicities, the footballing scene has always followed the same pattern. And within this diversity, two states have always emerged as the hotbed of football in India. Passion? Check. Crazy fandom? Check. Supporting the teams through generations? Check. Hence, it's no wonder whenever teams from the great regions of Bengal and Kerala meet at any level of Indian football, sparks are bound to fly. Add to that, a top of the table clash, in the top most league in India. Add to that, the final game for both sides in 2023. Add to that, the more wealthier side struggling, while the younger one flying high. Add to that, the supporters passion, the banter, the build up, the prayers. 

It's always a momentous occasion when Mohun Bagan SG meet the Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League. And Wednesday was no different. Two sides with complete opposite recent forms, two sides who are, as some may say on reverse ends of the spectrum than many would have predicted at the start of the season. After all, football is played on grass, natural or artificial, but never on paper. And Kerala Blasters proved yet again why names as big as the ones on the Mohun Bagan team may fill the spaces on a piece of paper, their salaries filling the spaces in their cheques, but these players can never fill the space the supporters have in their hearts. 

Yes, the same supporters who grew up with Sony Norde terrorizing defenses. The same supporters who backed Katsumi Yusa like our own. The list goes on, but it's probably safe to say, none of thee players in this current Mohun Bagan team even remotely comes close to making it at the past teams of the days gone by. Those teams were made on a shoestring budget, but with players who knew what this club meant to the fans. Those players considered it a privilege to play for Mohun Bagan, not because of the bank balance boost, but because of the love and respect that came with it. Does anyone expect these players to ever shed a tear for the club if they were to be axed tomorrow? Those days are gone. In this era of "professionalism" passion has taken a backseat. And Wednesday was no different. Mohun Bagan hosted the Blasters for the first time this season. A big match, the last for both the teams in 2023. Both teams were eager to make it count and end the year on a positive note. Well, at least one certainly did. 

Both teams were missing a host of players, most notable among them being Adrian Luna from the Blasters and Anwar Ali and Sahal from Mohun Bagan SG. This meant, Ferrando had to go with Vishal Kaith in goal as usual, but his defense was again not his ideal one, starting Yuste and Subhasish in the centre along with Rathi and Ashish Rai as the full backs for the day. The midfield was made up of Deepak Tangri and Anirudh Thapa, while Boumous, Dimi and Kiyan were playing ahead of them. Cummings started as the sole striker. For the Blasters, it was the homecoming for two of the sons of Bengal, Prabir Das and our very own "Ghorer Chele" Pritam Kotal. 

The game began on a quick note and the first chance fell to the visiting team. It was Diamantakos who came close when his powerful shot kissed the upright of Visal Kaith's goalpost. The early sign looked clear, and omnious. The Blasters never cared about the stadium or the atmosphere. They were here to win. And they showed the intent. The went for every loose ball early on, the pressed as a unit. The won the ball back together. And all their efforts were soon rewarded.

8:33' on the clock. Diamantakos decided to take it all upon himself as he glided past the entire defense of Mohun Bagan. First it was Tangri who could take the ball away from him, then came Yuste and Ashish who were never sure whether to put ion the tackle. The result? A powerful shot from close range into the box, straight into the net of Vishal Kaith's goal. It was not just a goal, it was a dagger pierced through the hearts of the Bagan fans. After all, this same team was unstoppable just a few months back. This fall was always unprecedented. But here was this team, after being humiliated by both Mumbai and Goa, already 1-0 down within the first 10 minutes at home against Kerala. Staring at another defeat in the league. The pressure was mounting.

Kerala however didn't sit back. Rahul KP came close on a few occasions. Peprah came very close to scoring and could have doubled their lead if it was not for Vishal Kaith. Mohun Bagan were toothless. Attack, defense nothing worked. Every attempt to break free from the shackles was thwarted by the blasters. The sad part was, Mohun Bagan lacked any leadership on the pitch. No one had the spine to take the responsibility. We know it's hard on the field, and players are already under a ton of pressure. But, does that excuse them from not even connecting one good cross in the entire first half? Whatever meagre chances were being created by getting the ball to the wings, everything was being wasted. No creativity, no composure. A slow, laggy buildup reminiscing of the 1950s football perhaps. The thirty thousand odd fans who had come with the hope of witnessing a turn around, were still hoping for a winter miracle.

Maybe, just maybe, can we really pull it back? Well, it doesn't hurt to dream, does it? But when dreams break, it does hurt. And hurt it did.

The second half began in a similar fashion. Cummins missed a chance early on when he fluffed his shot from close range. Mohun Bagan tried to mount a come back, but the efforts? Dismal. Only hope behind all of them. Never have we ever witnessed a Mohun Bagan team who have given up so easily. Shot after shot, long ones to be precise competed for a journey to the stands rather than to the goal. A shooting display of this calibre should be hardly dealt with by the coach.

The other thing we should be concerned about, are the set pieces. Poor delivery, weird to no variation and dearth of proper finishers has left us handicapped. Just look at our arch rivals, Carles Cuadrat is a set piece genius. He knows how to set his teams to his tune. And among all the good things Juan has, set piece coaching isn't one of them. You know what else isn't his strength? Give it a guess.

If you said handling youngsters then you are absolutely correct. We know we are bad, we know we are down. But what gives him the impression that Ashish Rai, who has consistently played poorly this season is gonna turn it around suddenly? What tells him that Cummings is gonna score in the next game? For the record, our senior players have been poor this season, so why not start some youngsters? What's the risk? We lose anyways, even if one in five gives a good performance, we might just uncover a gem. 

But alas, we can all dream of many things at this club. The sad part is, our rivals are making it a reality. FC Goa has the best scouting network in India. Kerala Blasters are reaping the rewards of investing in youth properly. Despite all the difficulties, Kerala is still mounting a challenge for the league shield. And we? Faltering at the very first hurdle.

The game had a few chances end to end, and if it was not for Vishal's brilliant saves in the end, we would have been embarrassed at home for the second time in one week's time. Pathetic, soulless and disgraceful. But unsurprising. 

The question now on everyone's lips is, so will Juan be gone? We don't give answers, that's for the management to do. We don't give hope, for hope kills harder than a sword. We are just like you, the readers. We are disappointed and sad, but we are looking at the future. 

Kerala Blasters have a great squad and look set to mount a serious challenge for the league shield. A club with a supporters base of this magnitude deserves to taste success atleast once. They have shown, taking hard decisions may lighten the path in the long run. Can we expect these hard decisions from the management? Axing certain players on a payroll, investing that money in the youth setup can be a good start. We need re-inforcements in certain positions, we need them quick. 

But, should we again go down that spiralling path of signing high budget players whose salary almost never seem to match their performances in the long run? 

Time, as they say, is the biggest fortune teller of them all. 



Vishal 8
Ashish 4
Hector 5
Subhasish 5
Sumit 5
Deepak 4
Thapa 5
Hugo 5
Kiyan 6
Petratos 6
Cummings 4


Sadiku 5
Hnamte 6
Manvir 5
Suhail 5

Message for Dear Hugo,
And as we've come to the end of this review, a few words for Hugo Boumous. Dear Hugo, you fought hard, you tried your best. We know we have not praised you at all times, we know we questioned you for we felt the lack of effort. But yesterday, you showed us what it means to you, what it means to win. You tried your best but were let down, yet again. Chin up champ, this is a journey we all take. TOGETHER. Together in Wins. Together in Defeats. C'mon Hugo, C'mon Mariners, from the end to the beginning, JOY MOHUN BAGAN!!

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