Mohun Bagan coach Sanjay Sen, who guided the team to its first national league title in 13 years, believes Indian football does not need over-hyped and below-par foreign coaches as there is no dearth of talent in local managers.
"I am not against them (foreign coaches). But tell me how many foreign coaches have got the national team and the clubs trophies? It always has been Indian coaches.
"There’s no point having below-par foreign managers, they have to be quality ones to take Indian football forward. They have to be of good pedigree," Sen told IANS in an interview.
Sen also welcomed the Indian Super League (ISL), saying it has helped Indian players raise the level of their game but said one has to, however, see if the tournament helped the footballers in the long run.
Sen took over the reins of the 125-year-old club last December after his predecessor Subhas Bhowmick was sacked for not possessing an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) A licence for coaching that has been made mandatory by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for coaches seeking to manage I-league teams.
Sen says during his five-month stint, the fans started rallying behind the team after delivering promising results initially, in complete contrast to their indifference when he took over.
He also said winning the I-League might look like a fairy-tale ending now but he had to start the task from scratch.
"Winning the I-League, yes, it does seem like a fairy tale now. But I literally had to start from scratch. I don’t think when the officials had chosen me to lead Mohun Bagan they had thought I would be able to do it (win the trophy).
"So when I started out there were not many people around, only the players, but then we started winning and slowly the number of officials increased in practice sessions and the matches. The supporters also rallied behind the team," he said.
But the coach admitted to be in a daze after receiving overwhelming adulation from fans and officials after winning the trophy.
"It is a feeling which I just can’t describe. The way people reacted was astonishing. What love and admiration! It is one of the biggest things that has happened in my life."
"It is all because of winning the title; if we would not have clinched it, there would not be so much of love, so much of support. There is madness and frenzy surrounding the IPL (Indian Premier League) and the ISL but I am glad to see so much of love here for us, for a historic club like Mohun Bagan," he added.
For the last I-League encounter on May 31, Bagan had to travel to Kanteerava Stadium to face Bengaluru FC, needing a draw to be crowned champions. The Mariners Mohun Bagan were a goal at halftime, but they did not lose hope and continued to build up well-knit attacks which led to Bello Rasaq, the Nigerian defender, restoring parity in the 86th minute.
"We had our spirits high even after we conceded one. I told my team to keep at it till the last minute; it was just about one goal. I said: Don’t you give up, it is not over till the last minute, you have to keep fighting, the goal will come’, and yes they fought and we finally succeeded in restoring parity in the 86th minute," Sen recalled.
Sen had a strong outfit with stars like Japanese medio Katsumi Yusa and Haitian forward Sony Norde but the coach says he has treated everyone equally and that contributed to the success.
"I don’t believe in stars in football. For me it was about Mohun Bagan the team. Yes, we have had individuals who were outstanding but for me, 1 to 33, all were the same. I never treated any one differently, that led to us combining as a team and hence it contributed to the success."
Sen lauded the efforts of goalkeeper Debjit Majumder saying he is a "very fast learner".
Born on December 12, 1960, Sen himself turned up as a defender during his days as a footballer. He had a long stint with renowned city team Railway FC and continued playing the game till 1994 when he decided to hang up his boots.
He then took over as the coach of Prayag United in 2010. After success with the club he went on to manage Mohammedan Sporting and helped them reclaim their spot in the I-League in 2014. That very year, he also mentored the outfit to the IFA shield triumph.
Sen took over Bagan’s charge when it was going through a financial crunch. He says it was difficult to keep motivating the players but they had silently followed whatever he had said. "Well it was there (financial crunch), and it had affected us. I did everything possible as a coach to protect the club and the team. I had told the players that they might have to go without the paycheck for a month or two."
"It is hard managing a team in such conditions because players, as you know, they play football to earn money and survive. But they listened to me when I told them that you got to play for fame, your family, you personal goals and the supporters who love you all so much," he said.
The man who loves wearing a white shirt and blue jeans while shouting out strategies from the technical area, said the win has certainly given Bengal the much-needed mileage in Indian football that it had missed in the last few years.
"The win does give back a significant amount of hold Bengal once had in Indian football, and I am hopeful it will continue this way, the other clubs here too need to play hard and to their potential, and if we do play well I think the title is here to stay."
On asked about the ISL which has taken Indian football by storm, Sen said: "The players are getting to share and learn the tricks of the trade from World Cuppers and former stars which is great, it will also help them raise their game when they come back to playing in the I-League but it’s just been one year… we should not jump the gun. We have to see if ISL helps the players in the long run."
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