Spanish flavour in Mohun Bagan’s Durand Cup opener win
Within a year of each other, two century-old sporting institutions hit by performance pangs broke their no-foreigners’ rule. Yorkshire did that in 1992, signing Sachin Tendulkar after first-choice Craig McDermott got injured. In 1991, when they were 101 years old, with the power and panache of Chima Okorie proving irresistible, Mohun Bagan stopped walking that talk.
On Friday, as the Durand Cup travelled to Kolkata for the first time in 129 editions, Mohun Bagan did another never-before thing: play four Spaniards. One of them, Salva Chamorro — he prefers to be called that rather than Salvador Perez Martinez — made his debut memorable with two headed goals in the second and 21st minute to beat Mohammedan Sporting 2-0 at Salt Lake stadium.
“I have had good moments in Spain and Portugal but am very happy because it was a big effort from the team that could give the supporters (28,000) a good night,” said Chamorro.
Chamorro, 29, is the kind of journeyman Spaniard — he played for Barcelona B in 2016, in Portugal’s Primeira Liga the season prior and against Barcelona for Murcia in the Copa del Rey in 2017 — whose influence is growing in India since last season.
Twenty-one of the 70 imports in the last Indian Super League were from Spain. In the I-League, a quartet of Spaniards helped Chennai City to their first title with three at East Bengal ensuring a fight to the finish.
Last term, they were the only teams in the I-League with Spaniards. This season, with Mohun Bagan having recruited four — defender Fran Morante, who was replaced by Fran Gonzalez in the 59th minute, and playmaker Joseba Beitia being the others — three of them under 30, the number is likely to grow.
Both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have Spanish coaches in Kibu Vicuna and Alejandro Menendez respectively and seven of their eight foreigners are from Spain. “It helps that we speak the same language and have a similar approach to football. But the main characters in Mohun Bagan are the Indian players and the Spaniards are here to support them. On the field, we communicate with the ball,” said Vicuna.