Both Shillong and Kokrajhar have a rich culture of football. The contribution of the Durand Cup to my football career is considerable, says Dipendu Biswas
1) Durand Cup Asia’s Oldest Football Tournament is now the official season opener of Indian Football. What do you think about this?
Ans) The Durand Cup is the first major knockout tournament of the season and one of the country’s most traditional tournaments. The country’s ISL and I-League teams participate in this tournament. Mohammedan performed very well in the Durand Cup in the last two years. Last year we lost to Mumbai FC in the semi-final. In the year 2021, we lost to FC Goa in the final. But this year I hope Mohammedan Sporting Club will do well in the Durand Cup this year like the last two years.
2) 24 teams will be participating this time in this prestigious tournament. Once again, it is going to be a battle between the I-League, ISL, and Army teams. Your views?
Ans) The advantage of playing this tournament at the beginning of the season is that many teams from ISL and I-League participate in the Durand Cup season, so one can check the strength of their own team. And the rest of the teams look at how prepared their team is or how well they can play in the future. Like the rest of the teams, we will see that.
3) This Durand Cup 2023 will be played in 2 new venues. Meghalaya’s capital Shillong and Assam’s Kokrajhar will be the new venues. What are your thoughts regarding this?
Ans) Both Shillong and Kokrajhar have a rich culture of football. Because many I-League matches have been held in Shillong. Shillong is the home of Lajong. Shillong Lajong is back in the I-League this year. As a result, the people there will have a new obsession with football. And also in Konkrajhar we played many exhibition matches between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan. There is also enough craze among people about football. With the Durand Cup being held in these two places this year, I think the promotion of football in the Northeast will increase.
4) Mohammedan Sporting Club has signed new foreigners. Last year their performance was quite good. How much is your team ready to fight this year’s Durand Cup?
Ans) This year we have put more emphasis on youth in the formation of Mohammedan’s team. The average age of our team this year is 24. We have also signed four foreigners who have played on Indian soil. Among which is notable Argentina’s Alex. Also, the Asian quota has taken a good midfield player and two Africans, a center forward and a center back. There is quite a combination of experience and youth in the team.
5) Domestic Football Competition in India like the Durand Cup is a very good platform for young talented football players. Your views?
Ans) This year the All India Football Federation has taken the initiative to make all domestic leagues non-foreigner. I applaud this initiative. This will result in an advantage that many Indian strikers and defenders will get to play. And I think Indian football can solve the problem of domestic strikers and defenders in the future. This will make Indian football much richer. And most of the ISL teams play their reserve teams in the Durand Cup. Such as Bengaluru FC’s Shiva Shakti. Last year, he got a chance to join Bengaluru FC’s ISL team based on his outstanding performance in the Durand Cup.
6) Durand Cup then and now. How excited are you for this year’s Durand Cup?
Ans) Durand Cup now has two new venues. Along with Shillong and Kokrajhar, there is Kolkata. As a result, apart from Kolkata, I think there will be enough fan frenzy in the remaining two venues.
7) Your good and bad Durand Cup memories?
Ans) The contribution of the Durand Cup to my football career is considerable. Because my rise is from this tournament. I scored a goal against Mohun Bagan for TFA in 1996-97. I became the highest scorer that year. The very next year, Mohun Bagan signed me for them. That year I also became the Young Player of the Tournament. So, the Durand Cup will always be a special tournament for me.
8) Most difficult opposition faced in the Durand Cup both as a player and a team manager?
Ans) As a player at that time I defeated strong opponents like FC Kochi, Salgaokar, Mahindra, and JCT. Also, who had to face opponents like Mohun Bagan in East Bengal’s jersey and East Bengal in Mohun Bagan’s jersey? However, as a manager, I have faced opponents like Mumbai FC in the semi-finals last year and FC Goa in the finals of the Durand Cup 2021.
9) Any special message to the supporters and spectators who will be following this year’s Durand Cup?
Ans) I have only one appeal to Mohammedan Sporting Club supporters, support the team, stay with the team, this year we have signed four new foreign players and we have a lot of young talented players who have the ability to play well in the Calcutta League, Durand and I League. Support them. Hope you will not be disappointed.
10) How has Indian football developed over this year?
Ans) This time, as per the decision of the All India Football Federation, many Indian newcomers are likely to emerge in the Kolkata league. Who will be seen playing Durand and ISL in the coming days? I said earlier that Indian football will be rich enough as a result. And in the coming days, many new footballers will be seen wearing the jersey of the Indian team.