April 22, 2021

Mohammedan Sporting’s Wasim Akram: We have the strongest team in I-League 2nd Division

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With Willis Plaza and Eze Kingsley in the ranks the Black Panthers are raring to spring a surprise in I-League 2nd Division…

There have been many ‘firsts’ in the illustrated history of Mohammedan Sporting, the club which used to share the same pedestal with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in the Kolkata Maidan until the last decade. 

Mohammedan created history when they became the first Indian club to win the Calcutta Football League (CFL) in 1934. After winning the maiden title, they went on to lift the trophy for the next four successive seasons, a record which stood for more than 40 years until broken by East Bengal in 1975. They also became the first Indian club to win the Durand Cup in 1940. After independence, they continued to be the pioneers as they became the first Indian club to win on foreign soil by lifting the Aga Khan Gold Cup in 1960 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

But their fortunes went downhill since the 1990s and after a hiatus of almost 30 years, they once again won a silverware of significance in 2013-14 when they lifted the Durand Cup and the IFA Shield. But in the very next season, they finished last in I-League and were relegated to the 2nd Division. 

They had a glimmer of hope in the previous season, before the Coronavirus pandemic played spoil sport, as the Black Panthers were in a good vein of form. They were on top of Group B of the I-League 2nd division with 12 points from six matches and looked primed to qualify for the final round. 

Meanwhile, there has also been a change of guard at the club with veteran administrator Mohammed Qamaruddin making way for 33-year-old Wasim Akram as the new General Secretary. Along with him, former striker Dipendu Biswas was elected as the new football secretary. The new office-bearers had only one goal in mind from day one which was to qualify for I-League. 

In spite of losing almost 70 lakh rupees in the previous season for a failed cause, the officials are once again pumping in money to lure quality footballers who can help them take the leap into I-League. They have released Musa Mudda and John Chidi and have roped in Willis Plaza and Eze Kingsley for the upcoming final round of the Second Division.

“It is a huge thing to have layers like Willis Plaza and Eze Kingsley in a 2nd Division I-League team. Moreover, we have good domestic players as well in Shouvik Ghosh, Tirthankar Sarkar and a couple of more names will be announced in the coming days. We are building this team so that we can qualify for the I-League and do well in I-League,” stated the newly coronated secretary Wasim Akram to Goal. 

Mohammedan had appealed to IFA {Indian Football Association) to convince AIFF (All India Football Federation) so that the tournament can be held in West Bengal. Now with the state government’s green signal, Kalyani seems to be the likely venue for the competition. 

“We just want the I-League 2nd Division to be held in Bengal. We have no problems with Kalyani. In fact, after the Salt Lake Stadium, that is the best ground we have in the state. We had played in that ground in the previous season. Even East Bengal & Mohun Bagan also played I-League there. It is a very good ground.”

Akram informed that although the club had held talks with Sk Faiaz and Arijit Bagui, the deal has fallen through and new players will be unveiled as replacements. An Asian player will also be signed in the next couple of weeks who will complete the overseas contingent. He is confident that Mohammedan will have the firepower that will propel them to I-League this time around.

“Mohammedan Sporting have the strongest team on paper. We should qualify. This is not over-confidence or being arrogant, but I really think that we are the strongest team. We have put in a lot of effort behind building this team and we are positive. The two foreigners that we have recruited are still in India. We are still searching for the Asian player. If it was not for the pandemic, we would have sealed the deal with a prominent player long back.”

The Black-and-Whites are keeping no stone unturned as their bid to reach the I-League. They have roped in former Minerva Punjab coach Yan Law as their tactician and now it remains to be seen whether they can return to the I-League after seven years.