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Stephen Abarowei sees 2000 in Mohun Bagan’s 2020 run

Nigerian says Kibu Vicuna’s men playing like well-oiled machine

By Arindam Bandyopadhyay in Calcutta

  • Published 25.02.20, 1:38 AM
  • Updated 25.02.20, 1:38 AM
Stephen Abarowei
Stephen Abarowei Sourcd by The Telegraph

Former Mohun Bagan star Stephen Abarowei feels cohesion between Indian and foreign players is the reason behind the team’s stupendous run in the ongoing I-League.

“The understanding between players of various football cultures in this Bagan squad is amazing. And that is the main reason behind the team’s performance,” Stephen told The Telegraph from Lagos on Monday. The frontliner played a huge role when Bagan won the National League back in 1999-2000.

“The squad which won the National League two decades back also had the same quality. Our (foreigners) understanding with the Indian players was superb. I can still remember the names of the Indian players — Basudeb Mondal, Debjit Ghosh, James Singh and others,” Stephen recalls.

“In the present squad the likes of Joseba Beitia, Fran Gonzalez, Fran Morante and Daneil Cyrus are playing at a superb rhythm. Add to that Baba Diawara’s presence as the No. 9. But we should also give credit to Nongdamba Naorem, VP Suhair, Ashutosh Mehta, Shiekh Sahil and others. They have also live up to the expectations. Hope they will continue the good work till the end of the season and in future.”

Stephen thinks it is just matter of time before Bagan grab the title. “I am watching the I-League almost regularly. Bagan are way ahead of their opponents. They are playing like a well-oiled machine,” he said. Bagan are placed at the top of the table with 32 points from 13 matches. That’s 11 points more than second-placed Punjab FC.

Stephen also has words of praise for the Spanish coach Kibu Vicuna. “The coach is a genius...He has instilled self-believe and confidence in the players and his comments also are very down to earth,” he said.

The Bagan management also got a pat from the Nigerian. “In 1999-2000 season, when we won the first leg Derby against East Bengal 1-0, I had an assist in James Singh’s strike. Anjan Mitra, who was the club secretary then, presented me with a wrist watch. These small gestures motivate the players to do better. I am sure something like that has happened this year too,” Stephen said.

During his Bagan days under Subrata Bhattacharya’s coaching, Stephen had formed a deadly combination with Brazilian Jose Ramirez Barreto and Uzbek striker Igor Shkvyrin.

Reminiscing about those glory days, Stephen said: “We had very good striking force and our attack used to start from the back. It’s almost the same with the present team. Diawara now is doing what Igor used to do. Diawara is the most high profile player to play in India in recent times. He has played for La Liga club Seville and that experience mattered.

“Playing with Diawara will also help the Indian players. And I am sure he is sharing his experiences with the other players.”

Now 50, the Nigerian runs a football academy in Lagos and has plans to visit Calcutta during the second-leg Derby to be held on March 15.