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In Kolkata, Mohammedan Sporting in an unexpected pitch battle that's not really about football

Yan Law speaks with his Mohammedan Sporting team during a break in their match vs Garhwal FC. AIFF

A coach sacked after two wins in two. A club official filing a police complaint against said (ex) coach. (Unsubstantiated, as yet) reports of fixing floating over an outsider. Said outsider filing a case of defamation against the officials of the club. Indian football is back.

On October 11, 2020, Mohammedan Sporting fired their coach Yan Law (or, Law resigned, depending on which version you read). Two days later, the club filed a case with the Kolkata police, against Law, for (among other points) -

  • "Circulating important information about 'Team XI' and team strategies to Ranjit Bajaj, [an outsider]."

  • "Unilaterally [choosing] the 'First XI' as per his whims and caprice and in contravention to the club management who had already finalized the team much ahead of the match."

As you may have already inferred from the two points mentioned above, this is a fairly bizarre situation. Possibly unprecedented. Even by the standards of Indian football and the drama of the Kolkata maidan.

What are the factors that make the story so far, so unusual?

The timing

Law was hired in August 2020, ahead of the I-League qualifiers, the winner of which will be promoted to the I-League for 2020-21. He signed a contract for the duration of the 2020-21 season. Last season, Law had been head coach at Punjab FC (then Minerva Punjab, owned by Ranjit Bajaj).

The club played their first qualifier against Garhwal on October 8, winning it with an injury-time winner from Munmum Lugun. Munmun was one of five players in the squad who had played for Punjab last season. Three days later, they beat ARA FC 4-1. This time with an XI that did not include Munmun or any of the former Minerva players in the squad.

The same day, Law was fired (or he resigned). Two days after that, Mohammedan filed their police complaint. They have two matches left in the qualifiers.

The terms of the contract

Nothing in the terms of the contract appear to suggest that the head coach cannot select his own playing XI.

The 'outsider'

Before their second match, reports emerged in local media that Ranjit Bajaj had been staying in the same hotel in Kolkata as the Mohammedan team, and that there was a whiff of match-fixing in the air. It appears the connection was made on the basis that they shared a hotel (although Mohammedan were in a bubble, their floors sealed off to non-team-members), and because Law was a former employee of Bajaj's.

The side story

There's another possible angle to this mess: Anwar Ali.

The former India Under-17 player was part of the Minerva academy, then signed on for Mohammedan Sporting while his playing status was in limbo on health-related grounds. He is now back in Chandigarh, with Minerva, in Bajaj's care.

The police complaint(s)

First came the complaint from Bajaj, against the club officials. In Bajaj's own words - "As per legal advice a criminal and civil defamation case. FIR is being lodged tomorrow against Dipendu Biswas [Mohammedan football secretary), Wasim Akram (club general secretary), Mohammedan and Bengali newspapers Aajkal and Yuvabharti u/s 499 IPC for making and spreading untrue, false and baseless allegations against me in print media."

Then, the Mohammedan one. In which the club accuses their former head coach of "taking advantage of the bio-bubble" (where only players and staff were allowed in, club officials were not) and choosing the playing XI "in contravention to the decision of the club management". This decision was, the complaint says, taken by the club's football secretary, former footballer and sitting TMC MLA Dipendu Biswas along with "other experts". They go on to accuse the coach of sharing 'inside info' with Bajaj, and not heeding the 'expertise' of the club management.

Some football

Oh, and in other developments on the side, Mohammedan play local rivals Bhawanipore in their next match, on October 16. Two more wins, and into the I-League they go.