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In Conversation with Prasanta Banerjee

22-Feb, 2012
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Prasanta Banerjee, the Coach of McDowell Mohun Bagan this year, is an ex-captain of the club who had also represented India in many International tournaments. He is also an AFC instructor. He was one of the favourite players of coach Ciric Milovan. He played for Mohun Bagan from 1984 to 1990. A natural left-footer, he started his career upfront and later on switched to midfield while playing for Kalighat and is known as one of the best midfielders to have ever represented India. He has played some memorable matches for Mohun Bagan. Born on February 12, 1958, we had a chat with him a day after his birthday.

Happy birthday Prasanta da.
Prasanta: Thanks a lot.

How does it feel to be back with Mohun Bagan, this time as a coach, after donning the Green and Maroon colours for 7 consecutive years from 1984 to 1990?
Prasanta: It is a great feeling to be the coach of a big club like Mohun Bagan. I have played for all the 3 big clubs of Kolkata and have won a lot of tournaments for all the 3 clubs. Even when I played for Mohammedan Sporting, we won a lot of tournaments in those 2 years.

You know, I have a very interesting record. Though I have played many derby matches wearing both the green-and-maroon and the red-and-gold jersey, I have never scored for East Bengal against Mohun Bagan, though I have scored quite a few goals for Mohun Bagan in the derby matches. Also I am one of the few players who has captained both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

Prasanta Banerjee in Mohun Bagan jersey

Please tell us something about your childhood days, Prasanta da.
Prasanta: My father, Jitendralal Banerjee, used to play football in the 1940s. He played for George Telegraph, but unfortunately, he could not play for any big team. During my childhood days, I used to play a lot of under-height football tournaments. Those days, there used to be 4’10” tournaments and I used to play for Morning Star Club.

One such 7-a-side tournament was held at Deshapriya Park. We reached the final and the match was supposed to be held in the evening but my father did not give me permission to leave the house in the evening - according to him, it would have affected my studies.  Somehow, with the help of my mother, I managed to appear for the final match. I remember, in front of Chuni Goswami and Balai Das Chatterjee, who were the chief guests - I had a great match as we won 5-2, scoring 4 goals in the final. The crowd carried me off the ground on their shoulders and I got great appreciation from all present. I got the best player award.

When I reached home, my father said to me that he was passing by Deshapriya Park and heard a lot of cheer. He checked with some of the spectators and was told that 1 young player has played brilliant football and has scored 4 goals. My mother told my father that it was me and she then asked me to show my father all the gifts that I have received. My father could not say anything to me after that (laughing).

When did you become a professional footballer?
Prasanta: A few years later, Piyush Mukherjee (who was a goalkeeper) introduced me to Babu da of Avenue Sammilani. I then started practising at Avenue Sammilani and also participated in the South Calcutta League.

In the year 1972, White Border Club, which was more famous for its cricket team, asked Babu da whether they can take me in their team. After taking permission from Babu da, I played for White Border Club in the 4th Division. I got just 1 boot from the club - we had to buy our own jerseys,too. Those days, I used to play in the forward line (as left in or left out in 4-2-4 formation) and scored a lot of goals. We ended up as the Champions in 1972 and, thus, got promoted to the 3rd Division.

Next year, however, we finished 3rd and failed to earn a berth in the 2nd division. In both 1972 and 1973, I got a chance to try out for the Junior Bengal team. Despite my sincerest efforts and attending the trials from Day 1, I did not get a place in the final team, though I performed quite well in the practice sessions.

In the year 1974, I passed Higher Secondary Exam and joined Kalighat Club. Compton Dutta & Shyamal Banerjee were my team mates. Sushil Bhattacharya was our coach. Those days, every club used to initially take around 100 players, but after the screening process, the number reduced to around 30-40.

After watching my on-field performance, Sushil da advised me to play as a midfielder (“linkman” was the term used in the ‘70s).  Initially, I thought this was a plan to screen me out of the team, but later on, I realized that switching my position to midfield indeed helped me in my career.

How was your performance that year?
Prasanta: I got a chance to play in the very 1st match itself - it was against Police. That was the first match in my career where I played in the midfield. We finished 3rd that year in the 1st Division. We beat Mohun Bagan, Mohammedan Sporting and drew with East Bengal. The Coach was very happy with my performance.I went for the Junior Bengal trials, again, in 1974.  This time, I got selected since I already was a known face at the Maidan. We won the Championship in Coimbatore. We defended the title successfully in the year 1975 beating Kerala 2-0 in the final.

You will be surprised to know that my style of play in Kalighat in 1974 was very rough-and-tough. It was basically less skill and more power. I earned my first card, that too a Red, against Aryan that year which incidentally was the last card I have ever earned on the field in my entire career. Our coach was very happy with my style of power play, but I was not satisfied and introduced a drastic change in my style of play from the next year i.e. 1975. Kalighat paid me Rs. 25 per month. The main club official was the owner of a renowned biscuit company of West Bengal; hence complimentary biscuits and jam were the additional “incentives! (laughing).

I received a number of job offers, especially from the Railways. But, since I wanted to play for the big teams, I rejected the offers and moved on.

Prasanta Banerjee during practice in Mohun Bagan ground

You were about to join Mohun Bagan in 1976?
Prasanta: Yes, I got offers from both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in the year 1976.  Ex-player Samar Banerjee took me to Chandra Madhab Roy, the then Secretary of Mohun Bagan, and I was offered Rs. 10,000 by Mohun Bagan for the season, which was a good sum of money in those days. However, a few days later I heard that Samaresh Chowdhury might join Mohun Bagan. I confirmed this from two other sources and decided to join East Bengal, as I thought I would not get much of an opportunity to play for Mohun Bagan. I joined East Bengal for half the amount i.e. Rs. 5000. Instead of money, I gave preference to being a regular in the first team.

My first match for East Bengal was a friendly match against Crook Town. Amal Dutta was the coach of East Bengal that year. I played in the 2nd half. Ratan Dutta and Goutam Sarkar started the match in the midfield. I also got a chance in the Junior India team in the same year. I played for East Bengal from 1976 to 1979; I was the captain in the last year.

Any memorable derby match in that period?
Prasanta: The league match in the year 1976, which Mohun Bagan won by Akbar’s 16 second goal. Although East Bengal dominated the match, Mohun Bagan went on to win the match. Anandabazar carried an article on my brilliant performance the following day written by none other than Chuni da.

You were part of the Mohammedan Sporting team that last won the Kolkata League in 1981 and those 2 years unveiled a new “Prasanta Banerjee”.
Prasanta: I had a 2-year tenure with Mohammedan Sporting - 1980 and 1981. We won DCM & Rovers Cup in the year 1980 and the Kolkata League in 1981. We defeated a Korean team in the DCM final.  Those 2 years were indeed very successful for Mohammedan Sporting.  I partnered with Amalraj in the midfield. The 1980 Federation Cup semi final with Mohun Bagan went on for three days and eventually we lost in the tie breaker. Pratap Ghosh was the goalkeeper of Mohun Bagan but Shibaji Banerjee came in as a substitute and made a couple of saves in the tie breaker. The final between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal that year ended in a 1-1 draw and they were declared joint winners.

You were part of the Asian Games and Nehru Cup team?
Prasanta: I was part of the Junior India team in 1976-77. I made my appearance for the Senior India team in 1980 and played till 1987. In the 1982 Asiad, we had a very good team and unfortunately lost to Saudi Arabia in the quarter final by 1 goal. We conceded the goal a few minutes before the end of play.

We started playing in a 4-3-3 formation from that year. Parminder, Prasun and I were the midfielders while Kartick Seth, Shabbir Ali and Bidesh Bose were the 3 forwards of the team that played in the 1982 Asian Games. We put up a spirited performance to hold Saudi Arabia till the dying moments of the match when Compton Dutta was replaced by Sudip Chatterjee. Soon after, we conceded the only goal of the match. Winning that match would have ensured a bronze medal, because North Korea, who had reached the semi final already, had pulled themselves off from the tournament.

During Nehru Cup

When did you join Mohun Bagan?
Prasanta: I joined East Bengal again in the year 1982 and was with them until 1983.
I began my stint with Mohun Bagan in 1984 and I stayed here for 7 consecutive years until 1990. I was the captain in 1988. Also,I was the highest paid footballer in Mohun Bagan in 1984.

We have heard that you got offers to play outside India.
Prasanta: In 1984, I was a part of the IFA team that played a friendly match against Junior Sao Paulo - we lost that match by 1 goal. After seeing my performance in that match and also in the Nehru Cup that year, I got a couple of good offers from Sao Paulo as well as a club in Poland, but I did not want to leave Kolkata. So, I ended up rejecting both the offers. I was the captain of an Indian team that played good football in the Nehru Cup that year...

Do you repent having rejected those offers?
Prasanta: (After a brief pause) Not exactly. I have played quite successfully here. I got the greatest reward from my favorite coach, Ciric Milovan, who said “Prasanta Banerjee should play in Europe.”

How many tournaments did you win for Mohun Bagan?
Prasanta: Those were the golden days for Mohun Bagan. We won the Durand Cup and Kolkata League thrice. We won the Federation Cup, Rovers Cup, and IFA Shield twice each. We also won the Sikkim Governor’s Gold Cup 4 times while in 1989 we won the All Airlines Gold Cup.

Mohun Bagan won both Durand Cup and Sikkim Governor’s Gold Cup thrice in a row from 1984 to 1986. In my very first year, 1984, Mohun Bagan won the Kolkata League, Durand Cup, Bordoloi Trophy and Sikkim Governor’s Gold Cup.  The next year,too, we won 3 trophies.

I was the Captain of Mohun Bagan in the year 1988. We beat Franza Club from Oman in the Cup Winners Cup. Mohun Bagan also won the J. C. Guha Trophy that year. I was adjudged the Best Player of the tournament and got a motor cycle and a television set. It was the first time a footballer received a motor cycle as an award in Kolkata.

Captain Prasanta Banerjee on shoulders of Mauritius players (a Mauritian custom) during the Mauritius tour of Mohun Bagan in 1988

Share your experience of playing against Roger Milla.
Prasanta: Indeed, it was a great experience. In 1990, Mohun Bagan organized a 3-team tournament involving Diamont Club, Cameroon and East Bengal other than the hosts. In the first match, we lost 3-1 against Diamont Club. We were down by 2 goals but we put in a credible performance in the 2nd half and pulled one back. But, eventually, Milla scored 1 more goal for his team. After the match, Roger Milla himself praised our - Bablu da’s (Subrata Bhattacharya) and my performances. Diamont club won that tournament beating East Bengal in the final.We played another exhibition match against Diamont Club in Durgapur, but lost the match 1-0.

You have scored against Manchester United as well. Can you please share your experience of this match?
Prasanta: Yes, Mohun Bagan played a friendly match against Manchester United team, though their team consisted mainly of aged players, we won that match 1-0. It was held in New Delhi where I scored the only goal of the match - a left-footer from outside the penalty box.

You have earlier said in the interview that you have scored many goals against East Bengal.
Prasanta: Yes, I have scored quite a few goals in the derby matches.  I scored in the Federation Cup semi final match against East Bengal. In a Kolkata League match in 1990, I scored another goal against East Bengal from a header; we won the match 2-0. I scored couple of more goals in a derby - I fail to remember the match - one of them from a header. The cross came from the right side.

In the 1987 Durand Cup semi-final, Chima tried to hit me from behind, but I just removed my leg in the nick of time; Chima got injured and had to leave the ground on a stretcher. Same thing happened in another match against East Bengal. Manoranjan Bhattacharya went for a rough tackle and I evaded his challenge; his leg hit my knee and he ended up getting injured because of the challenge. In a derby match in 1988, we were down by a goal, when Satyajit Chatterjee received marching orders. Playing with a man short, Mohun Bagan equalized when Sisir’s header from my curling free kick went inside the goal. However, East Bengal later scored a late goal to win the match.

(His younger son enters the room at this point).
Prasanta: You know, my son is a die-hard Mohun Bagan supporter. On the day of a derby match, he would refrain from talking to anybody; sometimes, he would skip his meals,too. Also, he does not allow people inside his house that day. His intense approach sums up his undying love and dedication.

Any other memorable matches for Mohun Bagan?
Prasanta: I scored a hat-trick for Mohun Bagan in the semi final of Sikkim Governor’s Gold Cup. It was against a team from Kerala. In 1988, we embarked upon a tour of Mauritius where we won 1 match and drew 1. It was a memorable tour for Mohun Bagan where we got a lot of appreciation from the crowd. It was a proud moment for me as the Captain.

In my 7 years, I have been a part of quite a lot of good Mohun Bagan matches - 1984 Calcutta League Derby match, 1984 Durand Cup final against East Bengal (we won 2-0), 1986 Durand Final against East Bengal (we won 1-0), 1987 Durand Semifinal against East Bengal (we won 3-0), 1988 Asian Club Cup matches, 1988 J. C. Guha Trophy matches, 1989 Calcutta League Derby Match, 1990 Calcutta League Derby Match. Unfortunately, we lost the Durand Cup final in 1987 against JCT by 1 goal after beating East Bengal by 3 goals in the semi final. Otherwise, we could have created another record of winning the tournament for the 4th consecutive time.

Prasanta Banerjee receiving Man of the Match award.

Who were the midfielders with whom you played in Mohun Bagan?
Prasanta: I mostly played in the 4-3-3 formation for Mohun Bagan. I played alongside Satyajit Chatterjee, Amalraj, Sudip Chatterjee, Bikash Panji.

You never played with Prasun Banerjee in Mohun Bagan?
Prasanta: I played with Prasun Banerjee for just 1 year - Mohammedan Sporting - 1981.  I have played with him while representing Bengal and India.

Who has been your favorite midfielder?
Prasanta: Sudip Chatterjee in Mohun Bagan. Though I have played just 1 year with Prasun Banerjee in club football, as I just said, I played with him while playing for India and Bengal. With that experience, I would say, we had a great understanding. Prasun had brilliant ball skills and we complemented each other very nicely.

Which midfielder in the opponent team has trouble you the most?
Prasanta: Goutam Sarkar.

Goals have been scored aplenty from your passes; which striker, would you say, had the best understanding with you?
Prasanta: Sisir Ghosh.

If you were to choose the best 11 players during your playing days, what will be your choice?
Prasanta: Bhaskar Ganguly as the goalkeeper, Subrata Bhattacharya and Manoranjan Bhattacharya as the 2 stopper-backs, Shyamal Banerjee and Sudhir Karmakar will be the 2 side-backs, Goutam Sarkar and Prasun Banerjee as the 2 midfielders and the forward line comprising Surajit Sengupta, Md. Habib, Subhash Bhowmick and Ulganathan.

When did you hang up your boots?
Prasanta: I joined East Bengal in 1991 and stayed there for 2 years. Due to a ligament injury, I had to leave football in 1992.

Mohun Bagan team after winning Durand Cup having received the trophy from President Mr. R. Venkataraman

When did you procure your AFC coaching degrees?
Prasanta: I got my AFC C and B licences in 1996 and 1997 respectively. After that, in 2003, I finished my AFC A licence coaching degree.

Share with us your experience of coaching various clubs?
Prasanta: I started with Gorkha Brigade in 1996. I stayed in Benaras for 6 months. Then I was appointed the coach of Army XI.
I coached U-21 Bengal team which finished runners up. In the year 2000, I was the coach of the IFA team that went to Bangladesh to play a tournament in Jessore. We emerged winners in the tournament. Ranjan Dey was the Captain of the IFA team. I also coached a few other teams in Kolkata like Port Trust in 2002 (played the National Football League 2nd division) and Aryan in 2004.I went out of Kolkata and took charge of New Delhi Tarun Sangha in the year 2009 followed by Guwahati Town Club in Assam in 2011. Under my coaching, Bengal finished runners up in the Santosh Trophy in 2006. Last year, I was the coach of Assam in Santosh Trophy. I also was the coach of U-16 Indian team under Akramov in 2002-03. We travelled to Germany.

When did you become an AFC instructor?
Prasanta: I became an AFC instructor in 2004. With me as the instructor, Debjit Ghosh, Bernard, Raman Vijayan and Kalyan Chowbey got their AFC C licences while Tanumoy Bose and Parminder Singh completed their AFC B licence. I had to travel to Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Malaysia and Sri Lanka for the various courses to become an AFC Instructor.

With Subrata Bhattacharya as Technical Director of McDowell Mohun Bagan team this year, did you hesitate to take up the Coach’s job, as being the TD, he will be the final decision maker?
Prasanta: Not at all. I want to coach. This is a big break for me. In Mohun Bagan, we both have specific roles outlined for us. In fact, you can say we both complement each other nicely.
I know this is a trophy-oriented club and success counts here. So we will be here till we get success.

How did both of you transform Mohun Bagan in such a way?
Prasanta: When I first observed Mohun Bagan as a Technical Committee member, I saw that the fitness level of the team is not up to the mark. We took charge of Mohun Bagan after the team lost badly in the Federation Cup, and it was only few days before the start of the I-League. I discussed with Bablu da and we decided that we will have to give more importance on team combination, raise the discipline level of the team and also make sure that team develops the habit of winning. There was not much time, then, to work on fitness levels. We made a good start in the I-League and the team became confident and the players started believing in their abilities.

Before the 1st derby match, our main aim was to win the match. 3 points was a must in that match, no matter how good or bad we perform on the field, as “winning” was all that mattered in that match since that would raise the confidence level of the team, and luckily everything has so far gone according to our plan, except the injury problem.

Had we put our full team out, in most of the matches, we could have been in the top position now. Injury to several key players has caused a lot of problem to Mohun Bagan this year, but still we have an outside chance of winning the I-League. We also have a chance of winning the Kolkata Premier League. Other than these 2 tournaments, we shall try our best in the IFA Shield. Hopefully, the 1-1/2 months break would help the injured players to become fit and we will be able to play the 6 remaining matches of I-League with our full squad.

Prasanta Banerjee with Prasun Banerjee, perhaps the best midfield pair to have ever played in Indian football.

During your playing days, injury problems were of a very minimal nature, comparatively. Also, Kolkata teams used to perform so well in all-India tournaments.
Prasanta: Honestly speaking, competition was not as severe as it is now. It was either Mohun Bagan or East Bengal who would become Champions. So we knew that winning the derby match would more or less ensure the trophy; but nowadays, you have teams from Goa fielding good, big-budget teams and every match is important now.

After the defeat against Dempo, Mohun Bagan made a strong comeback against Mumbai FC in the very next match. How did you and Bablu da manage this?
Prasanta: Yes, that was an amazing comeback. Winning by 5 goals in an away match, just after conceding 5 goals, is indeed a good comeback. There were a few junior players in the team against Dempo, they got nervous after conceding an early goal and that made the whole team demoralized. After the match, we neither did blame the players nor scold them. We helped them to turn around. We told them that if they play to their abilities, they can win the next match and exactly that happened as we beat Mumbai FC 5-1 in Pune.

According to you, Which junior players from Mohun Bagan have the potential to make it big?
Prasanta: There are quite a few talented young players in Mohun Bagan this year. They are Kingshuk, Manish Bharghav, Deepak, Souvik Chakraborty, Jewel Raja, Sourav Chakraborty.

Say something about Odafa Okolie. Has it been very hard to control him?
Prasanta: There is a saying in English “Don’t judge a man by his face.” Odafa is a perfect example of this proverb. He may look a bit rough, but in reality he is like a child, very well behaved and an extremely good human being. He has been taking so much workload in Mohun Bagan this year. This year, he has already scored some memorable goals for Mohun Bagan. Apart from scoring goals, many times you have seen him come down and clear the ball from our own penalty box. He has been taking more responsibility after captaining the side in a few matches.

What about Jose Barreto?
Prasanta: What can I say about Jose Barreto! He is a great player and overall a great Mohun Bagani, but it is my bad luck that I have got Barreto who is not fully fit.

Any memorable incident in Mohun Bagan?
Prasanta:  In 1984, when I decided to join Mohun Bagan from East Bengal, it was the handiwork of a secret operation of Shoilo Chatterjee and Biru Chatterjee. I had to stay at their Bally residence for some days before signing. Police was posted in front of our house in Kolkata. At that time, the Senior Bengal team’s practice was going on in Grear Ground. The mounted police was posted in the Grear ground only for me, which was arranged by Jatin Chakraborty and co-ordinated by Biru Chatterjee. I was escorted by car right upto Kharagpur to avoid the Howrah Station while going to play at the Santosh Trophy at Chennai.

Prasanta Banerjee talking with his favorite coach, Ciric Milovan, while representing Indian National team

Your best match in Mohun Bagan?
Prasanta: It would be a tie between the match against Franza which we won 1-0 and the Durand Cup semi final in 1987 which we defeated East Bengal 3-0.

Your best goal for Mohun Bagan?
Prasanta: I scored one goal against Mohammedan Sporting where I dribbled past 3 players. Also the header goal against East Bengal in Calcutta League match which we won 2-0.

Your best match for Mohun Bagan against East Bengal?
Prasanta: 1987 Durand Cup semi final which we won 3-0. Another match in 1988 which we lost 2-1, though we played good football in that match with 10 players.

Your best year in Mohun Bagan?
Prasanta: 1988 is the best, though 1987 and 1984 would come as a close second.

Prasanta Banerjee in action during 1984 Nehru Cup, photo laminated in his drawing room

Best tournament victory for Mohun Bagan?
Prasanta: J. C. Guha Trophy.

Your favorite coach is…
Prasanta: Ciric Milovan, Amal Dutta, P K Banerjee.

Why did you chose Milovan as the best coach?
Prasanta: Among the foreign coaches who have come to India, he is definitely the best. I have learnt so many things from him. Apart from being a brilliant strategist, practice sessions under him was not at all boring, we really used to enjoy the variety in practice. Whenever we used to make a mistake, he would nicely explain to us how to rectify those, and would hardly shout or scold us openly. Also, he believed in a single session of practice per day, instead of 2 long, continuous practice sessions which would drain most of our energy. Also he would always look after the comfort of the players. We used to get good food to eat and used to stay in good hotels. Milovan also made sure that those of us who represented India would get good treatment.

Best left footed player after you left football?
Prasanta: Krishanu Dey.

Your favorite actor?
Prasanta: Amitabh Bachchan.

Favourite movies?
Prasanta: Deewar, Zanzeer and many more.

With Rajesh Khanna

Favorite singer?
Prasanta: Kishore Kumar.

Favorite songs?
Prasanta: Innumerable songs of Kishore Kumar. One Bengali song “Ei to Jibon” is one of my favorite songs.

Favorite actress?
Prasanta: Hema Malini.

Which teams do you support in World Football?
Prasanta: Brazil and FC Barcelona.

Memorable match in World Football?
Prasanta: Argentina vs England match in 1986 World Cup.

Your favorite tourist spot?
Prasanta: Switzerland.

Thank you Prasanta da for giving us your valuable time and best of luck for all the 3 tournaments.
Prasanta: Thanks a lot.

Before start of a match in Nehru Cup

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Pradip Hajra75 weeks ago
Nice Interview - Thanks
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