“It’s not easy packing nearly two years into two suitcases,” Karim Bencherifa said with a soft laugh, perhaps in appreciation of a smart one-liner. Thirteen days after surprisingly becoming Mohun Bagan's ex-coach, the Moroccan left for Goa with a new challenge and no sense of déjà vu.
In his first media interaction after what Mohun Bagan termed an “amicable separation”, Bencherifa told HT that joining Salgaocar was more by default than design. “I hadn't chosen to leave a team (Mohun Bagan) that can still win the I-League nor did I choose to go to Salgaocar. I must say I was disappointed that although I had 18 months full of strong memories, I had to leave the way I did,” said Bencherifa, on contract with Salgaocar till the end of the 2010-11 season.
At Salgaocar thoughts of winning a maiden I-League after two successive runners-up slots will be put on hold. “The target will be to get away from the relegation zone and be as high as possible in the table. I think that's possible if you look at the potential of the team though it will need lot of work,” he said.
The coach refused to answer whether he thought he was done in at Mohun Bagan but said he was surprised how swiftly “issues” started cropping up during the trip to Goa where Bagan lost to Salgaocar and Dempo this month. “I never thought in such a short time, things would end this way. But it seems that’s the way football is, especially in Kolkata.”
Bencherifa didn't agree that returning to Goa was similar to his arrival in India in 2006 to take charge of Churchill Brothers who had just qualified from the second division. “I will go to Salgaocar with more experience after spending four years in the country.”
Asked to list the high points of his Mohun Bagan stint, Bencherifa mentioned two --- the historic 10-match winning streak in the last I-League and the 5-3 win against East Bengal this time around.
“For the first I would like to thank Bhaichung Bhutia (then Mohun Bagan captain) for his leadership, (medio) Ishfaq Ahmed and (goalkeeper) Sangram Mukherjee. For the win against East Bengal, (Jose) Barreto for ignoring injury to play and (Edeh) Chidi for his four goals.” Bencherifa was referring to the first-leg I-League tie of Oct 25 when Bagan, for the first time in their 120-year-old history scored five goals against East Bengal.