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Catch the inside story as the Mariners and the men behind them speak their heart out.

Karim Bencherifa speaks

18-Apr, 2013
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Karim Bencherifa, the most successful coach of McDowell Mohun Bagan in the last 10 years, has helped Mariners to move to a better position in the league table, after they were reduced to 0 points following 12 points deduction by All India Football Federation. Earlier, in 2008-10, Karim Bencherifa helped McDowell Mohun Bagan to win 3 trophies. Added to this, Mariners finished runners up in 3 tournaments. Overall, the performance of the green and maroon brigade was not only best among the Kolkata teams, but also performance wise they were at par with Churchill Brothers, the team which won the I league that year.

This time also, when he took charge, team was in a not-so-good shape being knocked out from the group stage of the Federation Cup. Just after AIFF officially deducted 12 points from McDowell Mohun Bagan, Karim Bencherifa took the panic-stricken players to Durgapur for a 1-week residential camp, where Karim focused mainly on increasing the mental strength of the players and to build up team spirit, which was very necessary at that point.

McDowell Mohun Bagan started their relegation battle with 0 points from the 11th round onwards and since then except the 1st match against Salgaocar, Mariners have remained unbeaten for 10 matches in a row. With 22 points from 21 games, Mariners are at present in the 12th position of the table, 3 and 7 points ahead of Air India and United Sikkim respectively.

Also Karim Bencherifa has set up a great example as the Chief Coach of the McDowell Mohun Bagan football team. Despite his father's acute illness (suffering from lung cancer), Karim went to see his father only once (that too only for a week during the I league break) and turned down further requests from the officials' to go to Morocco to his ailing father.

We had a chat with Karim Bencherifa whose contract with McDowell Mohun Bagan extends till the end of the 2013-14 season.

MMB: You always love to take challenges, but do you think this time, starting from 0 points, the mission to save relegation was the toughest challenge of your coaching career?
Karim: Well, besides the fact that I love challenges, it's more that I find myself in challenging situations! (laughing). There is no doubt that saving relegation starting from 0 points, with the closest teams having 10 and 13 points, has been one of the toughest challenges of my coaching career. It was not easy at all especially at the start. It is always extremely difficult to start afresh from 0 points.
MMB: With McDowell Mohun Bagan almost out of the relegation battle, what would be your target for the remaining matches of the season, keeping in mind the 2 important matches coming up in Calcutta Football League?
Karim: I don't agree that we are fully safe. We still have to confirm and we still need points. If by the end of the I league, we can reach the top half of the league table and if we can clinch the Premier Division title of the Calcutta Football League, I think that would be an incredible performance from a team that everybody doubted and went through a lot of issues this season. However, it will not be easy as we need to focus in a time when legs and minds start getting tired, being almost at the end of the season.
MMB: You always believe in attacking football, but in your 1st innings in Mohun Bagan, when Mariners won 3 trophies, you hardly used the 4-3-3 formation which you have used this time in most of the matches starting from the derby. Was it because of the "must win" situation that Mohun Bagan was facing?
Karim: I did use the 4-3-3 formation back in 2008 and 2009 especially in CFL. This formation is very effective with the right players. In this season, I am very happy with the way the players responded to this formation both while defending as well as attacking. I know that it's a bit risky because we are committing a lot of players forward but it's an aggressive way to put the opponents under pressure and playing in 4-3-3 we have scored many goals and bagged many points this year.
MMB: Last time, Mohun Bagan created a record of winning maximum number of consecutive matches in the I league while this time running through an extremely difficult phase, Mohun Bagan is right now unbeaten in the last 10 I league matches. Your reaction on this.
Karim: It's simply amazing. In fact, if you go through the last 10 round of matches, we are the best team in the last 10 games. Winning 6 and 4 draws is not a joke and no other team, including the top 3 teams, have managed to collect so many points in the last 10 rounds. We have collectively worked hard to achieve this and full credit goes to the players.
MMB: When you took charge of the team in November, what were the temporary and permanent goals you set for yourself? What were the areas that you focused on initially for improvement?
Karim: At the beginning, there were many challenges and many problems to fix; injuries, fitness, team spirit, formation etc. etc., but thanks to the players, we managed to overcome all those problems and not only did McDowell Mohun Bagan became a tough team to beat, we have regained back our respect and have collected 22 points so far, starting from 0 points after 10 matches.
MMB: In your 1st innings in Mohun Bagan, you brought Sueoka and this time you recruited Quinton Jacobs, both have played significant role donning the green and maroon jersey. Do you feel satisfied?
Karim: Credit should go to the players, both Sueoka and Quinton are top players and have contributed nicely to the team that they are playing for. I am happy with Quinton's contribution, he added stability to our midfield and when not used he is a very good option on the bench.
MMB: Which team is the most balanced in this edition of the I league? After coming to India, according to you, which was your best season?
Karim: I think East Bengal and Prayag were the best sides when it comes to abundance of options they had and the budget they invested. Our team is also good, it just needed proper guidance and hard work.

I think my 18 months with McDowell Mohun Bagan back in 2008-2010 was great. Winning 3 trophies and being runners up in 3 competitions was an excellent achievement. I also hold good memories from my stint with Salgaocar, winning 2 major trophies of India (Federation Cup and I league) and having very decent AFC Cup participation and that too in the West Zone of Asia with tough opponents from Middle East and Uzbekistan.

Also, I still remember when Mohun Bagan last qualified for the AFC Cup, it was under my coaching, and we had to play the group league matches against tough teams from Kuwait, Syria and Jordan. In fact, 2 teams from our group played in the final, with Al-Kuwait (Kuwait) becoming Champions while Al-Karamah (Syria) finished runners up.
MMB: Performance wise, who has been the best Foreign and Indian player of McDowell Mohun Bagan in this season? Which player made most improvement after you took charge?
Karim: Odafa was one of the most consistent player throughout the season. In my opinion, Eche is the most improved player. Tolgay missed many games because of injuries, but credit goes to him for the way he worked hard and came back strongly. He is having good end to the season. Of course, Quinton Jacobs have also made a good contribution as well. Rahim Nabi also had a great season whether playing as a defender, midfielder or striker. Nirmal and Aibor was solid at the back, and Denson Devadas marshaled the midfield very well. Other players also contributed very well and had showed a lot of improvements as well, with a special mention of C. S. Sabeeth.
MMB: When you took charge of the team, there was almost no on-field bonding between Odafa and Tolgay, but now there has been a drastic improvement in their on-field interaction. What is your take on this? What do you feel about these 2 strikers?
Karim: I think it's the coach's job to create a harmony between the players, of course the players are the main actors in creating a good team spirit and the right atmosphere in the dressing room, but the coach must have the right leadership and guidance.

Odafa and Tolgay are both great human beings but with different characters, each one have his own personality. At the end of the day, each player have to accept the other the way he is and work for the betterment of the team. That's what's happening right now. Finally, I think it's more people who are making drama out of it, because the reality is that within the team there is no issue at all.

MMB: Thank you Coach and best of luck for the remaining matches of the season.

Karim: Thank you very much.

Performance of McDowell Mohun Bagan since they started their relegation battle with 0 points.

January 20, 2013: Salgaocar 2-0 McDowell Mohun Bagan

January 24, 2013: McDowell Mohun Bagan 0-0 United Sikkim

January 27, 2013: Prayag United 1-1 McDowell Mohun Bagan
Goal scorer: Tolgay Ozbey

February 1, 2013: McDowell Mohun Bagan 3-1 ONGC
Goal scorers: Tolgay Ozbey, Jewel Raja, Odafa Okolie

February 9, 2013: McDowell Mohun Bagan 0-0 Kingfisher East Bengal

March 24, 2013: Pailan Arrows 2-3 McDowell Mohun Bagan
Goal scorers: Tolgay Ozbey 2, Aiborlang Khongjee

March 28, 2013: McDowell Mohun Bagan 2-2 Shillong Lajong
Goal scorers: Tolgay Ozbey, Manish Maithani

March 31, 2013: McDowell Mohun Bagan 2-1 Dempo Sports Club
Goal scorers: Rahim Nabi, Odafa Okolie

April 7, 2013: Sporting Clube de Goa 1-5 McDowell Mohun Bagan
Goal scorers: Odafa Okolie (hat-trick), Tolgay Ozbey 2

April 10, 2013: McDowell Mohun Bagan 3-2 Mumbai FC
Goal scorers: Odafa Okolie 2, Tolgay Ozbey

April 13, 2013: McDowell Mohun Bagan 3-2 Air India
Goal scorers: Odafa Okolie, Tolgay Ozbey, Denson Devadas

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Excellent Work!!!
Nirmala Varma183 weeks ago
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