In October 2019, Bangladesh football team captain Jamal Bhuyan left Kolkata just short of becoming a hero when India’s Adil Khan snatched a late equaliser to deny the Tigers a memorable victory in a 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier at the iconic Salt Lake Stadium.
Back to the same city to play for Mohammedan Sporting Club in the 2020-21 I-League season, the Danish-born Bangladeshi international is looking to cement for himself a lasting legacy at Indian football’s Mecca.
“An offer from the I-League is very good for me. So, when Mohammedan Sporting approached me, I asked around to know more about their rich history,” Bhuyan told All India Football Federation (AIFF) in an interview.
“They just earned a promotion and now want to win the I-League. I felt that that is the kind of intent I want to play with and that I can make an impact there,” he added.
With the two Kolkata giants - Mohun Bagan and East Bengal – moving to the Indian Super League, Mohammedan Sporting’s return to the top division I-League after almost seven years will be one of the biggest highlights of the upcoming season.
Once a behemoth of both Kolkata and Indian football, Mohammedan Sporting’s name, until the 80s, was uttered in the same breath as Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. The last four decades, however, hasn’t been kind to the Black and Whites as their millions of fans across India had to endure a tough time with the team only making rare appearances in top-flight football.
There’s a wind of change around the 129-year-old legacy club though, with recent successes in the lower tiers and eventual promotion to the I-League first division showing promises of a resurgence.
Stopping Sunil Chhetri
Winning the I-League is the obvious next step in the process and Bhuyan, with his international pedigree, will be a big part of Mohammedan Sporting’s ambitions this season.
Up against a full-strength India national team in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers second round group stage match last year, Bhuyan showcased his class, setting up Saad Uddin’s opening goal which gave Bangladesh the lead against a higher-ranked India.
Bhuyan’s work rate in the midfield was also responsible for keeping Indian star Sunil Chhetri quiet almost throughout the match.
“Sunil is an icon and a legend in India. He’s scored so many International goals, so we always had our eyes on him. The coach and I spoke about the game and he told me, ‘You have to stop Sunil’,” the Bangladesh captain recalled.
“So, I was focusing on not letting him get any chances. Whatever move he made, I went with him. My job that day was to cut him off from the rest and frustrate him.”
Playing football in India is also a special homecoming of sorts for the 30-year-old Jamal Bhuyan, whose ancestors stayed in India before the partition in 1947.