Are there any injury concerns in the team?
Nothing serious! There are a few niggles here and there but I believe the full squad will be available for selection ahead of the Big Match.
Does the gulf in the points table between the two clubs give East Bengal a psychological edge?
No, I don’t think so; not in a Derby at least. Here the stakes automatically become higher and there is a lot of emotion involved. No matter what the points table show, players, management and supporters get that extra kick before a Derby.
Personally, how do you treat the biggest match in Indian club football calendar?
(Laughs) Obviously I realise the importance of an East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan match and the tradition that’s involved with it. It’s really big. Everyone looks forward to the day and they want their team to win. The pride, the enthusiasm and madness surrounding this fixture is amazing. It drives all of us to give that much extra.
But for me personally, it’s just three points. In a League, it’s just another match that won’t fetch you four points! So winning stays important as does every single match. But I reiterate it is for the fanaticism and relevance that makes this match special.
Do you feel any additional pressure every time you step onto the ground for a Kolkata Derby?
Not at all! As a player or a coach, you look forward to this day. The ambience is what you live for. You know a vociferous crowd and the pressure to perform against Mohun Bagan motivates you. We have almost a full house at the Salt Lake stadium. The passion is the best part of it.
Mohun Bagan are battling a series of injuries at the moment. So is it Advantage East Bengal?
No! Derby matches are different. In a Derby match every player is charged up and motivated. He tries to give his best shot and thus we need to stay aware of our rivals. Having said that I believe Bagan’s players will overcome their injuries and stay fully fit prior to the kick-off.
How do plan to thwart Odafa Okolie?
There is no special plan chalked out for him (Odafa). We have been compact defensively so far and have conceded just one goal in our last nine matches. Our players know him (Odafa) well. I’m sure we will limit his opportunities whenever he gets the ball.
What is more important to you, winning Derbies or winning the title?
The best possible thing would be to win against Bagan and then go on to win the league isn’t it! But the I-League stays the primary goal and at the end of the full season, the Trophies in your Cabinet matter.
Would you mind losing both the Derbies but winning the title?
Ask me this question after the season, I will answer you. At the moment it’s unanswerable.
Manandeep Singh has been a revelation this season. What do you attribute it to?
Manandeep has playing really well. He has scored some wonderful goals and important ones too. He was superb in the Federation Cup and is shaping up perfectly. He stays a great prospect.