Fit-again Bhutia eager to play in I-League

A fit-again Baichung Bhuita is raring to go full throttle when his team Mohun Bagan opens its I-League campaign against minnows Mumbai FC on Saturday.

updated: September 28, 2008 09:30 IST
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With the nagging hamstring injury sustained in the AFC Challenge Cup healed, a fit-again Baichung Bhuita is raring to go full throttle when his team Mohun Bagan opens its I-League campaign against minnows Mumbai FC on Saturday.

The triumph in the Kolkata Football League -- under new coach Karim Bencherifa -- is a step in the right direction and the Indian football captain, who will take charge of the green-and-maroon brigade in the I-League, says his side has a good chance to finish winners this time.

"I hope to start in our first match. I've recovered about 90 per cent... I seem to be in a okay condition and I believe the few days left will make me fully fit for our first encounter.

"A good start is very crucial. We are hoping for a good start so that it helps us carry the momentum into the meet. We have a very good blend of experienced and youngsters and with (Jose Ramirez) Barreto in fine form, we look for the best. We have a definite chance of winning the title," Bhutia told in an interview on Wednesday.

Mohun Bagan's five-day residential camp concluded here yesterday after the 38-member star studded line-up pulled out from their earlier-planned six days' itinerary in Steel City Jamshedpur.

Lashing out at the organisers for having arranged poor practice facilities in Jamshedpur, the ace Indian striker said, "It was a complete waste of time. It hampered our preparation. We lost two precious days. It was a bad start to our preparatory camp and affected the boys' mindset also. The organisers were responsible for all this, they should have checked before calling us."

It may be recalled that Mohun Bagan had left for Jamshedpur on September 16 but after complaining of poor accommodation and food facilities, they aborted their sojourn in a huff and returned the same evening.

The club then organised a camp at a city hotel from October 19.

Nevertheless, this has not robbed them of any match practice, added Bhutia.

"We may have lost a couple of days, but still we could manage four-five days of training and we are in a fine shape. Now, I'm looking forward to a couple of days of rest before we start our campaign."

The 31-year-old feels the team is getting better under their Moroccan coach Bencherifa, who was with Churchill Brothers earlier.

"He is really doing well. Having spent quite a lot of time -- through the Kolkata League -- he has mixed with us very well. We all have a good understanding, very important to play as a team. It's about believing in each other so as to produce a result," said the AFC Challenge Cup winning captain.

With I-League now comprising 12 teams and hence more matches, Bhutia feels they have to space themselves out carefully to avoid injury breakdowns.

"More teams means more matches and a longer duration. Not only me, every player has to guard against injury and play in the right spirit."

Bhutia had a word of praise for arch-rivals East Bengal as well.

"East Bengal are a good team and with the new coach (Stanley Rozario) they can get better and better. I am sure with time, they will play better," he said.

He, however, refused to be dragged into the recent controversy surrounding Mohun Bagan secretary Anjan Mitra's remarks that East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting have "communal names", something that incite violence on the field.

"I have no comments on that. About violence during an EB-Mohun Bagan match, we players have nothing to do in it," Bhutia said.

Mohun Bagan had finished fourth in the last season's I-League, while arch-rivals East Bengal were sixth in the final standings.