Pritam Kotal: Kolkata Derby is the biggest game in Indian football

Juan Ferrando on the sidelines during an ISL match

ATK Mohun Bagan is in search of their maiden title and skipper Pritam Kotal is determined to help the Mariners win the ISL trophy in the 2022-23 Indian Super League season.

Mohak Arora sat down with the skipper Pritam Kotal to understand what goes on in the dressing room and take some of the questions that have been running through the minds of the fans across the club’s fan base.

The Mariners had a rough pre-season going down in a humbling defeat against I-League club Rajasthan United and crashed out of the AFC Cup as well which led to fury and anger amongst the Mariners.

The Kolkata-based club then lost the season opener against Chennaiyin but a successful turnaround in the club’s fortunes saw a few positive results including a 5-2 win against Kerala Blasters, a 2-0 win against East Bengal in the Kolkata Derby, and a 2-1 win against NorthEast United.

When asked about the start of the season, the skipper said,

“We had a bad start to the ISL season when we lost to Chennaiyin at home, we played well but it was a disappointing night for us as a team. We wanted to come back in the next game and to play Kerela away is always difficult because they are a good side and their fan support is very good.”

A few senior players in Roy Krishna, David Williams, Amrinder Singh, and Sandesh Jhingan were among the several players moved on by the Mariners which has put a huge responsibility on Kotal’s head of keeping the spirits high in the dressing room.

“My main focus during the talk was to keep the belief and stick to the plan, We have quality players in our squad and on our days we can be dangerous as a unit and I am happy that we had a great game and we got the full 3 points.”

Discussing the mood in the dressing room before and after big pressure matches like the Kolkata Derby and the battle against title-favorites Kerala Blasters, the right-back said,

“Kolkata derby is the biggest game in Indian Football and always a  special match for all the Bengali players because we have grown seeing this rivalry (Ilish vs Chingri). It doesn’t matter how many derbies you have played, On that given day you will have to perform.”

He further emphasized on the derby fans and the presence of fans helping the Mariners to win the high-pressure match,

“This year derby was a bit different because we played in front of our fans and we wanted them to leave the stadium with a smile on their faces, Derby win always boosts the confidence level as a player and as a team also. 

He further said,

“It’s always special to play in front of such passionate fans because it gives you the extra push during the games and motivates us to perform well and make our fans happy on every occasion. So it’s special.”

On a very similar note, the discussion switched to the Kolkata Derby and the altercation between skipper Kotal and East Bengal’s star forward Cleiton Silva. He said,

“When we are playing a game of football, there is not much time to rethink a particular action during the game, Referee was the one to make the call and he made his call.”

As club captain, it is Kotal’s responsibility to give the team talks and arrange the team’s defense in set-piece situations but his off-field duties also include guiding the young and new players along with helping them settle in the club’s environment.

“I think we have very good young players in our squad and they have all the potential to improve themselves as a player and bring glory to both club and country. My advice for them is always to keep working hard and giving 100% whenever they turn up for any practice or match.”

“Nowadays, Football has evolved with the help of science and the most important thing is to maintain your body, fitness level, and mindset. With experience, they will also understand the importance of these things.”

Talking about playing under different head coaches in the last few years, Kotal said that experience has helped him understand what the coach wants in certain situations.

The right-sided defender said,

“I have played under a lot of coaches in my playing career till now, different coaches have different playing styles. First I always try to understand what he wants from me as a player (individually and collectively). Once I understand the mindset and actual role it becomes much easier for me.”

Nowadays, technology has improved a lot which eventually makes understanding easier. Being a professional adapting to situations that coaches expect from players and with experience becomes easier. Modern Football has evolved and got different experience always helps me grow as a player.”

Being a boyhood fan, Kotal is closely connected to the club’s fans and the 29-year old defender explained in detail what the club and its colors mean to him on a personal level.

Kotal said,

“First of all, the green and maroon jersey is an emotion for me because before a player I was also a supporter of this iconic club, I used to accompany my father to games and he used to tell me a lot of stories about this club. So I understand the emotions of the fans and their emotion towards this club because this club has a rich history.”

“Players are very professionals these days, They are well aware of the club’s history and fan expectations but being Club Captain I always try to motivate them and share my experience with these guys who are trying to establish themselves in Kolkata Maidan. I have been playing for this club now for 8 years and sharing the same hopefully helps them to settle down in the new club environment.”

He concluded,

“Personally my goal is to give 100% on every game day and perform for the team to the best of my abilities and as a group, our only goal is to win 🏆 for this club and our supporters, no other result would make our fans and us happier.”