Revival on horizon for Kolkata football: Challenges that lie ahead

Considering Mohun Bagan securing the league shield and the presence of three giants in the top division, could Kolkata football be on the brink of a remarkable revival?

Update: 2024-04-17 09:01 GMT

 Mohun Bagan win maiden league shield

Kolkata has historically been a powerhouse in Indian football since its early years. West Bengal stands as the most successful team in Santosh Trophy history, clinching the title 32 times and finishing runners-up on 14 occasions. The state also boasts the record for the most successive Santosh Trophy titles, winning six back-to-back editions between 1993 and 1999.

However, since the early 2000s, this dominance has waned. To be precise, they've only secured the Santosh Trophy thrice in the last 24 years, with the most recent victory in the 2016-17 season.

Despite the fervent fan base and enthusiasm surrounding the Kolkata derby, Bengal football has been on a downward trajectory for several years now. Once a state that contributed seven or eight players to the national team, it has dwindled to only one or two, signaling a decline in the football prowess of the Mecca of Indian football.

Dip in National Team representation

Since the early days, Bengali players have been integral to the national team, with names like PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, and Samar Banerjee being synonymous with Indian football. However, for the first time in 2022, the national team entered a competition without a single Bengali player, during the Hung Thinh friendly tournament.

From the early 2000s, the highest percentage of playing time for West Bengal players was during the 2006 World Cup qualifiers at 36.3%, dropping abruptly to 10.8% in 2010 according to a study done by Richard Hood. Although there was steady growth from 2010 to 2019, it plummeted to just 0.6% in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. Currently, the percentage of playing time stands at 5%, the second lowest in the last two decades.

Despite West Bengal leading with 15.35% of playing time in the ISL and I-League, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal rank third and fourth, respectively, in giving playing minutes to local players. In the I-League, West Bengal players have amassed 11.38% of the minutes, but Mohammedan ranks 10th in minutes given to local players.

Decline in ISL and I-League Players from the State

Over the years, the I-League has maintained a steady percentage of players from West Bengal, but the ISL witnessed a significant drop from the 2014 season to the 2022-23 season. Mohun Bagan leads in the most minutes played by local players in both ISL and I-League, with East Bengal following closely behind. However, Mohun Bagan ranks second in the ISL, while East Bengal lags.

As of now, Mohun Bagan has approximately six local players, with only two receiving consistent playing time. East Bengal has eight local players with two playing consistently, but Carles Cuadrat has been giving minutes to the youngsters. Nevertheless, the presence of local players is crucial for club football, as it fosters a connection with the local community.

A Wind of Resurgence?

After a prolonged period, all three giants of Kolkata football are set to clash in the Indian Super League, with Mohammedan Sporting winning the I-League and earning promotion to the ISL. With Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in the ISL, the Kolkata derby had already injected a new energy into the league. The success of these three prominent teams could herald a new era of footballing rivalries, attracting large crowds and media attention to matches between Mohun Bagan, Mohammedan Sporting Club, and East Bengal. These intensified rivalries would not only rejuvenate local football but also elevate the overall competitiveness among the teams.

The Underlying Problems

Despite the positives, it's essential to address the elephant in the room: youth development. The success of these top-tier teams should ideally create opportunities for aspiring young footballers in Kolkata. However, there's a lack of investment in youth development programs by the clubs, leading to a dearth of skilled players for the future. While quick success is desired, focusing on youth development is crucial for sustaining long-term growth in Indian football.

Kolkata, like Manipur, Goa, and Kerala, has the potential to produce talented players. Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, and Mohammedan should capitalize on this by investing in youth development programs, thereby reclaiming the dominance of West Bengal in football and contributing to the Indian football ecosystem.


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