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The Bible in his hands, football at his feet
To comprehend the end of Jose Ramirez Barreto at Mohun Bagan, one has to look back to his start, some 13 years ago. It's an open secret that he was not the first choice player for then coach Subrata Bhattacharya, who was instead looking for a Nigerian forward. The nod for Barreto's recruitment was given in December 1999, but only once the Kolkata club had failed to land the Nigerian's clearance in time. But the Brazilian's arrival in what would eventually become his second home coincided with a turbulent period at Mohun Bagan in particular and the Maidan in general.
The sensational rise and equally spectacular fall of Amal Datta's famed 'diamond' system was still fresh in the mind of many. Although Mohun Bagan had lifted the National Football League a season ago, the general ambience was vicious because of some match-fixing allegations and highhandedness of officials - which saw Bhattacharya's predecessor Syed Nayeemuddin unceremoniously removed when club secretary Anjan Mitra asked him to go while dropping him off outside Kolkata's South Club, the former India captain's favourite hangout in the city. Moreover, Nigerian Chima Okorie, the darling of Mohun Bagan at that time, was suspended for assaulting the referee during the local league derby.
Kolkata's Maidan still ruled Indian football back then, but there was an undercurrent of distrust and despondency as if the game was waiting for someone from outside to come and relieve it of its ills. Chima, such a celebration of power and promise, was now a spent force and he never returned to the field following his act of madness. Instead landed Barreto, all the way from Port Alegre in Brazil, Bible in his hand and a football at his feet. There was a silent prayer on Kolkata's lips. He arrived like a messiah, a man for salvation.
If Chima had laid the foundation of Kolkata's domination in the initial years since the introduction of National Football League, the Brazilian embellished the structure. Barreto too had his own inhibitions and was skeptical about the existing squalor. "I came here with the idea of playing for a season and then moving to another place. A return to Brazil was also on my mind, " he admitted during a chat, adding, "It was a difficult time. I didn't know English, so communication was a big problem. There was also homesickness. "
But once with the ball, Barreto expressed an entirely different language. He might not have had the power of Chima, the goal-poaching instincts of the contemporary Ghanaian Yusif Yakubu (who was making his mark in Goa while playing for Churchill Brothers). The agility and aggressiveness of Indians IM Vijayan and Baichung Bhutia might not be his forte as well. But what has marked Barreto out among his contemporaries is that he has brought a sense of magic to the game, which no other foreign player or Indian star could boast of. His early goals for Bagan bore testimony to that typical mystique that only a Brazilian is believed to be able to conjure up. The way he mingled artistry with efficiency is the stuff of local legends on the Maidan. He has added beauty to the ugly, turning a dull game into the celebration of a dazzling goal. He has made the unpredictable the predictable thanks to his insatiable penchant for scoring goals out of nowhere.
His first tenure at the green and maroons - from 1999 till he left the club five seasons later was the best of times for Kolkata football with Mohun Bagan and East Bengal winning the NFL twice each. That's the time when he was elevated from a mere charmer with the ball to the god of football in the eyes of fans, yet he left in 2004 when some club officials misbehaved with him and showcaused him for not playing 'properly'.
But when he returned two seasons later - following stints at Malaysia's Pelang FA and nowdefunct Mahindra United in Mumbai - the balance of power in Indian football shifted to Goa. And it was a slightly different Barreto that returned. He also tended to lose his cool frequently at that time and was even charged with spitting at East Bengal striker Alvito D'Cunha during a local derby. He was also accused of intervening in team selection and strategies as the club appeared to prefer stop-gap arrangements instead of a long-term appointment for the position of coach. Coaches Chima, Robson, Carlos Perreira to name a few, came and went, but the Brazilian continued to hold sway. But he was as mentally aware of his surroundings, and perhaps to keep his mind off things, Barreto started learning guitar, taking solace in music and trying to stay away from gathering controversies around him.
Crucially, as a player, he failed to produce the magic of his earlier years as Mohun Bagan's as well as East Bengal's - and Kolkata's - wait for an ILeague title got longer with each season. Injuries and the increasing physical challenge of the game have gradually led him to the realization that his end at the Kolkata club is approaching.
That cycle will come to an end at the Salt Lake Stadium this weekend, when Barreto will lead his beloved team for the last time against Pune FC in this I-League season's final-round match. Barreto can leave safe in the knowledge that, just as he had filled up the void created by the departure of Chima, Okolie Odafa is now here to carry this legacy. But can the quick-scoring Nigerian conjure up that same spellbinding magic as the Brazilian? One is not too sure.
CAREER PROFILE IN INDIA
1999-00 (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals scored: 6 (NFL), 1 (Millennium Trophy) - Total 7 goals. Trophies Won: National Football League
2000-01 (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals Scored: 3 (McDowell Trophy), 8 (Kolkata League), 5 (IFA Shield), 3 (Airlines Trophy), 3 (Sikkim Gold Cup), 2 (Durand Cup), 1 (Rovers Cup), 14 (NFL) (Golden Boot) - Total 39 goals. Trophies won: Airlines Trophy, Sikkim Gold Cup, Durand Cup, Rovers Cup.
2001-02 (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals Scored: 3 (Kolkata League), 5 (IFA Shield), 4 (Fed Cup) (Golden Boot), 2 (Bordoloi Trophy), 4 (Sikkim Gold Cup), 4 (Durand Cup), 15 (NFL) - Total 37 goals Trophies: Kolkata League, Fed Cup, Sikkim Gold Cup, National Football League, Bordoloi Trophy.
2002-03 (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals Scored: 5 (Kolkata League), 3 (AFC Champions League), 2 (Airlines Trophy), 10 (NFL) - Total 20 goals. Trophies: Airlines Trophy
2003-04 (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals Scored: 8 (Kolkata League), 2 (Fed Cup), 4 (IFA Shield), 5 (NFL) - Total 19 goals. Trophies: IFA Shield
2005-06 (MAHINDRA UNITED)
Goals Scored: 6 (Fed Cup) (Golden Boot), 7 (NFL), 1 (Super Cup) - Total 14 goals Trophies: Fed Cup, NFL.
2006-07 (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals Scored: 2 (Durand Cup), 1 (Fed Cup), 5 (NFL), 1 (AFC Cup) - Total 9 goals Trophies: Fed Cup, Super Cup.
2007-08 (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals Scored: 14 (Kolkata League) (Golden Boot), 3 (Fed Cup), 5 (I League), 3 (IFA Shield) - Total 25 goals Trophies: Kolkata League
2008-09 (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals Scored: 7 (Kolkata League), 4 (Fed Cup), 10 (I-League ), 1 (Super Cup) - Total 22 goals Trophies: Kolkata League, Fed Cup, Super Cup.
2009-10 (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals Scored: 3 (Durand), 14 (I-League ), 4 (Kolkata League), 3 (Fed Cup) - Total 24 goals Trophies: Kolkata League
2010-11 (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals Scored: - 5 (I League), 8 (Kolkata League), 3 (Fed Cup) - Total 16 goals Trophies: None
2011-12 (UP TO 1. 5. 12) (MOHUN BAGAN)
Goals Scored: 1 (Fed Cup), 4 (I-League ) - Total 5 goals Trophies: None Overall Goals: 237 (Mohun Bagan - 223, Mahindra United - 14) Overall Trophies Won: 21 (Mohun Bagan - 19, Mahindra United - 2)
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