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ISL

ISL: Mohun Bagan SG, the champions of India

In a season that seemed like a lost cause at a point, at least mentally; Mohun Bagan bounced back to become the champions of India.

ISL: Mohun Bagan SG, the champions of India
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Mohun Bagan SG player Jason Cummings celebrating his goal. (FILE PHOTO: ISL)

By

John Mathew

Published: 15 May 2024 7:15 AM GMT

For the favourites, winning is a necessity but for Mohun Bagan and their fans, winning is obligatory.

So when one of India's biggest clubs finished the 2022-23 season third on the table coupled with just the League Cup, earning themselves a slot at the AFC Cup, expectations were high, but the demand for an even better season next time around stood greater.

Greater demands were met by greater inputs and investment. Bagan were active in the transfer market, with a keen eye on exceptional Indian talent and top-tier foreign players.

While they had to let go of their long-time servant Pritam Kotal, McHugh and the likes of Tiri and Kauko among others; the Kolkata giants made up for it by bringing in some of India's finest in Thapa, Sahal and Anwar Ali. Several foreigners boasting an impressive CV such as Jason Cummings and Armando Sadiku followed suit.

Bagan's season started with the Durand Cup, which proved to be the perfect season trailer the fans could have asked for. After winning the opening two group games, Mohun Bagan tasted defeat at the hands of their bitter, eternal rivals, East Bengal. It was a mental blow to the mariners who got an early reason to linger for.

However, Mohun Bagan had to deal with the AFC Cup qualifiers first. With seeming ease, they got their tickets issued after beating Machhindra FC by three goals to one. The sore slap handed by East Bengal had healed, and it was just in time for a reply.

Bagan went on to beat FC Goa and Mumbai City FC in the KO stages of the Durand Cup, setting up a classic Kolkata derby for the title. The Mariners were not going to let this one slip, winning 1-0 through a 71st-minute winner by Dimi Petratos, who seemed to pick-up right where he left off last season. And just like that, Mohun Bagan SG already had their first silver-ware when the season was just 8 games old.

The Mariners' Asian tour would begin shortly after, against a much familiar foe in Odisha, who was trounced 4-0 as Bagan took command of the group from the get-go. They would begin their league action with a couple of wins against Punjab FC and Bengaluru FC. They went on to beat Maziya Sports and Recreation Club in Asia and Chennaiyin FC in the league before drawing 2-2 against Bangladeshi champions Bashundhara Kings. That draw later proved to be the start of the end for coach Juan Ferrando.

Bagan beat Jamshedpur FC in their next league encounter making it four wins from four league games. But two consecutive losses to Bashundhara and Odisha in the return legs meant the Kolkata giants were out of Asia already. Things would only get worse for the Mariners as they went on to lose 4 out of 7 of their next games; essentially costing Ferrando his job just prior to the Asian Cup break.

Clifford Miranda led the team in the Super Cup in an interim role. But heartbreak would soon follow there too as Mohun Bagan crashed out of the Super Cup group stage with yet another loss to East Bengal in the final group-stage game. It also meant Mohun Bagan would not have any Asian football if they didn't manage to win the league shield. The Maroon and Greens were 5th on the table, 7 points adrift off the top at the moment.

However, they had a renaissance, possibly induced due to Deja Vu, as Antonio Lopez Habas returned as head coach at the Mariners' camp. Being the man he is, Habas quickly made some decisive calls such, as dropping Hugo Boumous from the squad and re-introducing Joni Kauko in that role. He also put a lot of faith in the clubs' youngsters such as Abshishek Suryavanshi, Dippendu Biswas and Amandeep - who all provided great returns.

With the grandmaster at the helm, Bagan turned the tide, winning all but one of their remaining games. Joni Kauko and Suryavanshi proved their mettle, Petratos, Cummings and Sadiku hunted for goals. Yuste threw everything to protect his goalmouth and Kaith sprung up with stupendous saves; come the final day - Mohun Bagan had it all in their hands.

A win at home against Mumbai was all that was left to complete the story, and they did. A narrow 2-1 win was enough for the Mariners to entrust themselves as India's representative at the Asian level yet again. Habas the miracle worker had pulled yet another trick out of the hat!

The shield win put the Mariners at the cusp of yet another domestic treble. Odisha stood in the way in the semis, given yet another chance to avenge their losses in Asia; Bagan did not hesitate, beating Odisha 3-2 on aggregate to set up a date with Mumbai City at the Salt Lake stadium. But this time, the final laugh went with the Islanders, as they outplayed MB 3 goals to one, denying the elusive treble.

It may have ended on a sour note, but for all the downfalls Mohun Bagan suffered through the season, their renaissance is quite remarkable. There's no real substitute for winning, but Bagan had Habas. In ISL, he's the synonym for winnings and silverware.

Moment of the Season

When Jason Cummings scored the second against Mumbai on the final league match-day, he may not have realised he was etching himself into folklore for years to come. The Aussie had just won the national crown for one of India's biggest clubs. Nothing beats that, not for the fans, nor for the players. Nothing matches silverware.

Player of the Season

Hero of the league, Hero of Mohun Bagan SG; Dimitri Petratos in maroon and green seems to hit a vibe. With 10 goals and 7 assists, the Aussie led his team from the front, often deciding games on his own. Petratos may not be the hero that the Bagan faithful hoped for, but he's the one they deserved.

Emerging Player of the Season

Suryavanshi might have been a late addition to the Mariner's playing eleven but he was probably the most crucial cog. In a midfield that struggled to find a balance in and out of possession, Abhishek's introduction, coupled with aid from Kauko proved to be the tipping point. The 23-year-old helped MBSG control the midfield through his calculated passes and retention capabilities.

Season rating

In a season that seemed like a lost cause at a point, at least mentally; Mohun Bagan bounced back to become the Champions of India. They were a win away from a domestic treble but seemed a complete failure in Asia. Considering all factors, Bagan had a season that can be rated a 7.5/10.

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