East Bengal and Mohun Bagan’s entry into the Indian Super League (ISL) has football fans from across the country excited and former Indian football ace Bhaichung Bhutia is no different.
With both legacy teams transitioning into the ISL, the iconic rivalry between the two Kolkata teams, spanning almost a hundred years, will also have a new stage to shine on. The East Bengal-Mohun Bagan tussle is considered one of the biggest footballing rivalries globally.
“With Mohun Bagan and East Bengal coming into the ISL this year, it’s very exciting,” Bhaichung Bhutia told the Hindustan Times in an interview.
Bhaichung Bhutia also tipped ATK Mohun Bagan, who have retained a majority of ATK’s ISL title-winning squad from last season, including head coach Antonio Lopez Habas, as one of the favourites this season.
“I think Habas is a really sharp coach. I see them doing really well,” he noted.
“They are much better prepared and Habas is known for not changing things too much. He has been in Indian football for a long time now, so he has a very good idea about both Indian and foreign players,” added Bhutia, a former Indian national football team captain and an Asian Football Confederation Hall of Famer.
East Bengal, meanwhile, had to face a far sterner challenge with the confirmation to their entry coming in really late.
The management, though, moved swiftly in the limited window to rope in former Liverpool icon Robbie Fowler as the team’s head coach and make some intelligent signings.
“I think East Bengal won’t be too far behind because Robbie Fowler has his own set of good, experienced foreign players. These players would know the demands and the systems under Fowler. It’s about the Indian players settling down well,” Bhutia opined.
The two sides are set to face off in the famed Kolkata Derby, albeit in Goa this time, on November 27. It will be East Bengal’s opening match of ISL 2020-21.
“On paper, ATKMB are the favourites. When you play in Kolkata, the pressure and passion is at such a different level that there are no favourites then but this is happening in Goa,” the 43-year-old Bhutia said about the upcoming derby.
Bhutia, who has played and starred in multiple Kolkata Derbies during his heydays, however, advised caution against counting East Bengal out.
“But I can see East Bengal doing very well too. For them, if they can beat Mohun Bagan in their first match, it will set the season up really well,” he stated.
The ISL 2020-21 kicks off from November 20 with ATK Mohun Bagan facing Kerala Blasters FC.