The best of Mohun Bagan: Heist at Kanteerava, Barreto's solo act
Mohun Bagan are I-league champions again. Following their 1-0 win against Aizawl FC, the Kolkata club extended their unbeaten run to 14 games, wrapping up the title with four games to go.
While Bagan have been a class above the rest this season, where does the current side place among past title-winning squads? ESPN ranks Bagan's four previous title wins.
#5 Signing off with a bang (2019-20)
The current team started slow off the blocks, held goalless by Aizawl FC and then losing 4-2 at home against Churchill Brothers, but have gathered a head of steam since. Joseba Beitia has been an immense presence in midfield, his assist also helping Baba Diawara notch up the title-winning goal. Fran Gonzalez has been instrumental at both ends of the pitch, combining with Daniel Cyrus to shore up the pitch, and scoring a bulk of the team's goals. Indian players like goalkeeper Sankar Roy, Nongdamba Naorem and VP Suhair have had excellent seasons too.
The downside, if any, that all opposition teams have been inconsistent. It's reflected in how the race for second place is still a very open one, and could well go down to the final day. If anything, the title is Bagan's reward for having been above the fickle nature of every other side this season. It's all the more special, considering it was the perfect way to say goodbye to the I-League.
#4 Jose Barreto's one-man show (2001-02)
Bagan's third NFL (National Football League) title was built on the back of some supreme scoring touch from Brazilian striker Jose Barreto, who was the team's premier striker in a storied career that spanned over a decade.
Barreto scored 15 of the 31 goals scored by the champions, whose game was built around a solid defence put together by their coach, former Indian defender Subrata Bhattacharya. There were good performances by Indian regulars like midfielder Basudeb Mondal and foreign players such as Abdul Latif Seriki and Abdul Wastu Saliu -- the latter scoring a dramatic final-day winner away to Churchill Brothers, who led Bagan by one point going into their match. The central theme for the season, though, was find a way to Barreto, and he shall deliver.
Barreto is currently head coach of the Reliance Football Young Champs (RFYC), who recently went toe-to-toe with youth teams of Chelsea and Manchester United in Mumbai.
#3 The special first (1997-98)
Kerala's TK Chathunni was brought on board to coach Mohun Bagan for the second NFL, after the first campaign had ended in failure. In a two-round round robin to identify the top eight teams for a Super League, Bagan had finished fifth in their group and thus missed out on being a part of the first NFL.
A year on, they began with a 1-0 defeat away to Air India, but after that, Nigerian great Chima Okorie took charge of leading the attack and found a willing accomplice in Dipendu Biswas, the current coach of Mohammedan Sporting who was then a fresh-faced 16-year-old just breaking into professional football.
The field was a competitive one -- crosstown rivals East Bengal had put together a fine team, Salgaocar were the in-form club in domestic football, and FC Kochi had poached the best of the talent from defending champions JCT in a star-studded line-up. What kept Bagan ticking was their ability to grind out 1-0 results, doing it twice against Kochi, and against teams like Mahindra, Indian Bank and JCT.
#2 The dramatic Kanteerava heist (2014-15)
For sheer drama, one can't look past how Bagan won their maiden I-League, in 2015. They needed a draw away to defending champions Bengaluru FC, but the hosts took an early lead that would have seen them win back-to-back titles. However, defender Bello Rasaq rose from a corner with about three minutes of regulation time left to head home a goal that only fetched a point, but turned history around for a team that had come close on a few occasions, but flattered to deceive.
Bagan had a solid team, built around the mercurial Haitian Sony Norde. Balwant Singh was one of the key strikers, as was Jeje Lalpekhlua. One of the key figures was Debjit Majumder in goal, though the final match of the season saw Shilton Paul fill in for him, and also lift the trophy as captain.
#1 Perhaps the best Bagan team of all time (1999-2000)
In the national league era, the team that Bhattacharya put together for the first of his two titles as Bagan coach had few peers. For one thing, the choice of foreign players was outstanding -- this was Barreto's first year as a Bagan player, and he repaid the faith shown in him with some great attacking play. Nigerian Stephen Abarowei brought with himself NFL-winning experience with the star-studded JCT team from the first season, while Kenyan international Samuel Omollo was a towering presence in defence.
The star performer was the season's golden boot winner Igor Shkvyrin, who finished with 11 goals, and invariably delivered when his team needed it the most. Biswas was also in good scoring touch, as Bagan finished the season level on goals for, goals against and draws with Churchill Brothers. However, two extra wins meant they won the title with two matches to go, and then closed out the season with a 4-0 thrashing of fellow-Kolkata side Tollygunge Agragami.
Which do you think is the greatest Mohun Bagan side? Have your say below.