Pressure of the grand final consumes Mohun Bagan

Mumbai City FC with the ISL Trophy (Image: ISL)

There were 62,007 people in the stands braving the summer heat. Another 60,000 or more outside wanting tickets. The stage was set for a grand spectacle. Almost everyone was supporting Mohun Bagan Super Giant, and may be that was their undoing. The pressure of the big final was too much to bear and despite taking a 1-0 lead at half time, Mohun Bagan were a timid team on the night. Not once could they take control of the game and Antonio Lopez Habas, the coach, had his worst game of the season. In all fairness, Mumbai were deserving winners in front of a partisan Kolkata crowd. And by doing so, they ensured the home-team curse in the ISL final stayed intact. 

Let’s decode the game. Mohun Bagan had played with flair all season. With Dimi Petratos and Liston Colaco, and a star-studded line-up, it was expected of them. And yet, in the final, they did not play the high press. They were defensive, and were waiting for the counter. That’s how they managed the first goal, and it all seemed to be working for Habas. But then, the second half was very different. One defensive lapse, and it was thrown wide open. The back line was exposed and during the second goal, it was like child’s play. Vishal Kaith was nowhere in position, and the Bagan players just seemed to lose the plot. Even after conceding the second goal, there was no real pressure. In fact, Mumbai City could have scored more and it was only poor finishing from the strike force that prevented a more lopsided scoreline. 

Many will say it was an aberration. Some said to me it was the worst game of the season. Perhaps all of them are right. And yet, they seem to be missing the point. Not always is home advantage the best thing for a team. It is all about pressure on the big day, and more often than not, players feel the tension and choke. No home team has won the ISL for a reason, and Mohun Bagan were no different. Pressure isn’t an easy thing to deal with and when you know you are on the cusp of history, more so. The build-up could have impacted the team, and the crowd support may have made them anxious. Whatever the truth is, we won’t know, but the fact that it was the worst game of the season can’t be without reason. With plenty at stake, the players were unable to produce their best. May be this is why the best teams don’t necessarily win tournaments and the best players don’t always win Olympic gold. And that’s what makes sport what it is – real, not reel, and an opiate of the masses. 


Does the loss make Mohun Bagan a bad team? Absolutely not. The season will always be regarded as a stellar one with the league shield win and the Durand Cup success. Making the final was a serious achievement and the management would do well to retain Habas for the next season as well. The team is a well-oiled one and, needless to say, they will start next season as one of the favourites. 

As the curtains are drawn on the domestic football season, attention will gradually shift to the national team. The preparatory camp starts soon, and exactly a month from now, we will all be there at the Salt Lake Stadium yet again. But this time round, the fans will brook no failure. Igor Stimac will be on trial, and India will need to beat Kuwait to stay alive. That night, the pressure will yet again be immense, but one can only hope the home team will absorb it and deliver, and not wilt or choke.

Also Read: Mumbai City FC silence YBK Stadium, win ISL Final by defeating Mohun Bagan SG 3-1