Exclusive Interview: Ranjan Bhattacharya, West Bengal Football Team Coach for Santosh Trophy 2022

I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to meet Coach, Ranjan Bhattacharya a few days before the Santosh Trophy 2022 gets underway.

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Avignyan Mukhopadhyay
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I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to meet Coach, Ranjan Bhattacharya a few days before the Santosh Trophy 2022 gets underway. We had a detailed conversation regarding the upcoming Santosh Trophy, the Indian Super League, the development of grassroots football in India, and its future. As a veteran of the Kolkata maidan, Coach Ranjan Bhattacharya provided me with a deep and wonderful insight into the workings of Indian football machinery.

The full interview is given below:

Q. How is the overall preparation for the Santosh trophy 2022?

A)" Preparation and training have been great for the tournament. Even though dates got rescheduled for the trophy, the West Bengal team was very well prepared. Now it's all about consistent performance during the tournament. And the last "L' in football stands for Luck, the champion's luck. Just like in this year's ISL, Hyderabad FC played a consistent tournament till the semi-finals, their form dipped after that, yet they won the tournament due to tenacity and champions luck."

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West Bengal won the Santosh Trophy in 2016-17 Season. (Image- The Bridge)

Q. What was the procedure of player selection of the West Bengal team for this year's Santosh Trophy?

A) "When Calcutta Football League took place, IFA had sent legendary footballers like Prashanta Banerjee, and Alok Mukherjee to take a look at the players. The scout list was given to me. Even after that I, myself scouted few young talent. We started the preparation camp with 120 players and now final squad has come down to 20 players with 9 reserves."

Q. With the scheduling issues in Indian football, we see ISL taking up almost an entire year of playing season. So how important is these domestic tournaments for the development of football especially in the grassroots level?

A) "Yes, there were some issues due to the pandemic. Every year, AIFF organizes the Youth I-league, and it is a mandatory law for the ISL teams play their youth squads in the tournament within the age group of 13, 15, 18 years old. In the last Youth I-league, 88 teams participated out of which my team Adamas Barangar Sporting Club also participated. I believe football cannot grow without grassroots football. Not just the ISL club, but other local clubs, association, the government should join hands in the development of grassroot football."

Q. Which Indian footballer have caught your eye in this year's Indian Super League? For example, we saw Hira Mandal excelling this year for SC East Bengal.

A) Rahim Ali among alot of good players caught my eye. Yes Hira Mandal is another one. And its also important to talk about Kiyan Nassiri. Actually its about giving opportunities, like this time, my Bengal team consists of only Bengali players, which has never been done before. So if we win the Trophy, it will be massive glorious occasion for West Bengal. Last few Santosh Trophy standouts from West Bengal team were Manvir Singh, Denson Devdas, who were not originally from West Bengal. That is not case this year, all players in my team are Bengali, like Fardin Ali Molla, Chakladar, Rabi Das. The Indian football team selection is done on the basis of ISL only, not even the I-league. So East Bengal and ATK Mohun Bagan has to make sure that players from Bengal are given chances into the team, even if reservation is required, it needs to be done for the progression of football in Bengal. A deep thought needs to be given to the development of Bengali players, like I decided to select only Bengali players this year."

Q. You spent time with your players for several days now, do you hope to see some of them breaking into the Indian Super League, I-league or even the Indian National Football Team?

A) I believe, the players I selected for the Santosh trophy will do great in the upcoming future baring any mishaps that might happen. Every player is in great shape. Fardin Ali Molla is already playing AFC Cup for ATK Mohun Bagan. 25 Bengali players played in the last ISL season, i believe that number could rise upto 35 players in the next season. Plus winning the Santosh Trophy will be an extra jewel on the crown".

That is all from Coach, Ranjan Bhattacharya.

Ranjan Bhattacharya will be looking forward as the Platinum Jubilee edition of the Santosh Trophy will be inaugurated by the competition's two most successful sides – West Bengal (32-time winners) and Punjab (8). Hosts Kerala open their campaign against Rajasthan who pipped Maharashtra by a point in the West Zone qualifiers.

Services begin the defence of their title against a Manipur side which knocked out Mizoram in qualifying. Karnataka, who came through with a perfect record, will be hoping to build further momentum in their opening game against Odisha.

The top two teams from each group will qualify for the semi-finals.

Group A: Meghalaya, Punjab, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Kerala

Group B: Gujarat, Karnataka, Odisha, Services, Manipur

Indian Football Santosh Trophy