“Playing in the Durand Cup is a massive experience for these boys”

Head Coach Naushad Moosa Spoke To Us About His 16 Durand Cup Campaigns As A Player, And How His Blue Colts Will Do Well To Savour Every Moment Spent Playing The Prestigious Tournament…

The half-time whistle is heard at the East Bengal ground. Dressed in gold and red, Naushad Moosa kicks off the mire from underneath his boots, making his way back into the dressing room. Locked at 0-0 against Food Corporation of India in the Calcutta Football League, the long walk to the team talk will require Moosa and his fellow players to walk through a tunnel, above which angry supporters wait to shower them with cups made of clay. They were originally meant to serve tea in the galleries. The year is 1997.

“Football in Kolkata is a different experience altogether. The supporters there want to win and it doesn’t matter how that is accomplished. I cannot explain to you how bad the condition of the pitch was that evening. It had rained continuously for days and not a single one of our passes would find its intended target. If we passed it along the floor, it would bounce and go a different way. If we tried to lob it to someone, it would get stuck on the slush and refuse to bounce,” Moosa recollects 22 years later, sitting in the offices of the Bangalore Football Stadium.

Now the Head Coach of the Bengaluru FC reserve side, Moosa is set to fly to Kolkata once again. This time to lead his young side into the Durand Cup, a tournament in which he represented five clubs, over a 16-year period. His medal from lifting the trophy with Mahindra United in 2002 dangles in a showcase at home. The times have changed, but Moosa believes the experience of playing big teams in a tournament of this stature will be an experience in itself.

“In football, you can prepare yourself for tough games, yes. But there are things that you cannot prepare for on the training field, and that comes with playing against hostile crowds. That game against FCI, I remember scoring the winner in the second half. It had started raining once again, and I managed to sneak a header in from a corner late on. And when I pulled my bike out of the parking lot that night, there were supporters lying on the ground in front of me, asking me to ride it over them as a sign of gratitude. They were probably the same ones who had thrown the clay cups at me about two hours before that. If I hadn’t scored that goal, the game would have ended in a draw. But even a draw against FCI was a matter of shame for them. Football was and continues to be a massive part of their lives,” says Moosa.

BFC B Head Coach Naushad Moosa runs his players through a training session at the club’s training base in Bengaluru, ahead of their trip to Kolkata.

Grouped with Army Red, Jamshedpur FC and East Bengal, Moosa believes that his young side will have their task cut out, but maintains that the experience is what counts the most. “Are we going to try and win these games? Yes. But that is not the most important thing for these boys. I want to see us play good, free-flowing football. That will make me happy. I have seen this team lose two games in pre-season, but every time I saw glimpses of promise and every player is getting better with each training session. It is a work in progress, and I am happy with whatever development I have seen so far.”

While many of his players have moved on, Moosa retained just eight members of a side that won the BDFA Super Division League, the Puttaiah Memorial Cup and went on to finish top of their group in the 2nd Division League.

“Many of my players from last year have signed with I-League clubs and I’ve retained only eight of them for this season. Ahead of selecting my final squad for the Durand Cup, I had five of our U18 players and thirteen of our U15s training with the BFC B team. The average age of my squad was 21 last year and the youngest player I had was 19. This year, my average age is 16 and I have a 14-year-old defender as well! This does not, in any way, mean that we consider the tournament unimportant. It means that we, as a club, believe that an experience like this will hold the future of young Indian footballers in good stead,” adds Moosa.

With some of the first-team players returning early for pre-season, Moosa adds that his young side has made the most of the experience of training at a high intensity over the past few weeks. “That Sunil, Gurpreet, Eugene, Erik, Khabra and Rino made their way to training early shows the level of professionalism and commitment they have towards the sport. I know that some of my players have worked extra hard because of this. You can imagine how much they’ve tried to beat Gurpreet in goal or just to get the ball off Sunil. It makes my job a lot easier, if I’m being honest.”

Walking into stadiums in Kolkata will bring back stories of brickbats and clay cups, but while they have their place in Moosa’s memories, the job at hand is different for him now. On Sunday, the 47-year-old will touchdown in the City of Joy with a squad that will do everything they can to give a good account of themselves.

BFC B begin their Durand Cup campaign with a clash against Army Red at 3 pm on Monday.