By Soumo Ghosh,
AIFF Media Team

KOLKATA: With four days to go for the start of India’s first sporting event post the COVID-19 lockdown – the Hero I-League Qualifier 2020, local favourites Mohammedan Sporting Club resumed training on Sunday after spending four days in isolation, keeping in line with the COVID safety regulations.

With a mix of youth and experience in their respective squads, Sporting are looking to put all the expectations aside and move forward with their aim of qualifying for the Hero I-League.

“It’s good to be back on the training ground once again. But we have to keep our feet on the ground. We have a strong squad. But everyone wants to beat us,” said Head Coach Yan Law. “Since the teams will have extra motivation to beat us, we need to keep our focus for every minute that we play.”

The Black Panthers, in fact, have turned towards an age-old method of dealing with the weight of expectations on their shoulders.

“We have to drive our players’ focus away from the external pressures. In such situations I prefer to deal with them with a personal touch, in order to get the best out of them,” said Law. “That is why apart from the regular indoor training routines we have also been doing a lot of yoga and meditation, to help our players maintain their focus on the ultimate goal.”

Youngster Suraj Rawat, who joined Mohammedan from Indian Arrows ahead of the Hero I-League Qualifier, states that though there has been no pressure on the players from the club management or from the fans, the young lot does feel the weight of expectations upon their shoulders.

“It’s not like we have much pressure on us. The club management and coaches have been really good with us. But you do feel the weight of expectations going into a crucial tournament like this,” he uttered.

Over the course of the off-season, the Black Panthers have gathered up a formidable squad of players, with a good blend of experience and youth. While the likes of Rawat, Himanshu Jangra and SK Faiaz provide the legs as the young lot in the side, others like Willis Plaza, Eze Kingsley and Subash Singh provide the much-needed experience.

Experienced campaigner Subash Singh is someone who is used to having the weight of expectations on his shoulders.

“I’ve never really thought of the pressure aspect of a game. Just that I will miss the fans on the pitch. I’ve played before in Kolkata, and know-how great the fans can be here. They can give you that extra push,” he said. “But these are strange times, and we have to accept and move forward together with the safety protocols that the authorities have put in place. It is in everyone’s best interest.”

“At the end of the day, people only expect something from you, if you are a good side. Isi mein josh hai, isi mein maza hai (That’s where the zeal lies, that’s where the fun lies),” said the winger with a smile.