The Bagan upfront has the likes of Baichung Bhutia, Jose Barreto and PC Lalawmpuia — a combination that can give sleepless nights to any coach. Booth, however, appears unperturbed. Rather, he is a tad apprehensive about whether his young boys would be able to produce their best in front of a packed house that would go ga-ga to see a Bagan win.
“I’m only thinking about whether the youngsters would be able to handle the pressure. It’s not easy to play in front of thousands of partisan fans. If they don’t choke, they would give Bagan a run for their money,” Booth said.
“I’m not really worried about Bagan’s strengths. They have quality players, but my job is to help the boys perform to their potential,” he added.
The British coach is not really happy with the fitness level of his players. According to him, that was the reason why the team couldn’t put up a decent performance in the Durand Cup and was eliminated in the quarterfinals. “Personally, I didn’t want to participate in the Durand Cup. Instead, my idea was to go for an intensive training programme. But we had to participate (in the Durand Cup). So, I chose a line-up comprising basically the juniors. “I’m not too unhappy with their performance, though there’s always room for improvement, especially on fitness count. We have been working to improve their fitness level,” Booth observed.
As for the I-league, the new Ghanaian recruit Abel Hammond, fresh from his stint with the Italian third division club Brescia FC, is going to be his trump card. “Given a choice between Barreto, Yakubu and Hammond, I would choose the latter,” Booth said. Hammond didn’t play in the Durand Cup. But his performance in warm-up matches, have impressed one and all. Said midfielder Noel Wilson: “I don’t want to say much at this moment. If Hammond stays fit, he will set the I-League on fire.” The Ghanaian would be paired up with Nigerian Felix upfront. The latter has also impressed his coach with his showings in the I-League qualifiers and the Durand Cup.
In Kalyan Chowbe, Noel Wilson and Sanjoy Parte team has experience. Booth wants a perfect blend of experience and youth which, according to him, would be the key to success.
It would be baptism by fire for Mumbai FC who are playing the I-League for the first time. For a newcomer, to bump into four toughest teams of the tournament in first four matches is certainly not a very welcoming prospect. Coach, however, keeps his fingers crossed. “Our first four games are against Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mahindra United and Dempo SC. The outcome of these matches would decide our fate in the I-League,” Booth concluded.