Football in the Kolkata Maidan is governed more by emotion than most other things and emotion triumphed yet again as Mohun Bagan officially announced the signing of Sony Norde for the rest of the 2018-19 season on Thursday, October 11.
Bagan has been going through some troubled times off the pitch in the recent past, clouded by an internal power struggle and lack of sponsors. Under such circumstances, Norde's impending arrival comes as a huge respite for the thousands of fans who have been flocking social media, begging for club officials to sign him.
Despite winning the Calcutta Football League (CFL) after a gap of 8 years, the pressure was mounting on the Mohun Bagan management, from within and without, to build a stronger team for the upcoming I-League.
The concern from the coaching staff was governed by the general consensus of the challenging teams being much stronger than their CFL counterparts. The pressure from without the club, however, was in the wake of arch-rivals East Bengal signing a host of alleged "game-changing foreigners" backed by their recently acquired sponsors.
According to the All India Football Federation guidelines, each team in the I-League can register up to six foreign players and field a maximum of five in the starting line-up. Out of the allowed six, Mohun Bagan finished the CFL with four foreigners already registered – Dipanda Dicka, Henry Kisekka, Yuta Kinowaki, Eze Kingsley – leaving space for only two.
The club had confirmed, of the two remaining foreigners, they were looking at one attacking minded player and one defensive minded player.
It was assumed that Sony Norde would be the natural choice for the attacking position club leaving technically only one more foreigner to recruit.
Norde has been consistently the best performer in the team for the last four seasons. In fact, he has arguably been the best foreign recruit plying his trade in Indian football in the last couple of decades.
A nippy footballer who prefers the left wing, Norde has equal prowess with both feet and has bamboozled defenders given his ability to cut in and stretch the defence at whim. Moreover, he is a huge fan favourite in Kolkata as has been evidenced by the numerous times fans have broken onto the pitch to touch his feet – a trend maintained even off the pitch, in movie theatres and restaurants.
But the applecart was disturbed when on Tuesday, Mohun Bagan announced to the media that pending medical, they were signing Egyptian attacking-midfielder, Omar Elhussieny.
This announcement caused immense speculation on Norde's future with the club and in the late hours of Tuesday, October 9, Norde himself commented on the situation via a post on his official Facebook page.
So delicate is any discussion surrounding Sony Norde that it was assumed that the faction that would be responsible for re-signing Norde would naturally go on to win the club elections that resulted from the internal power struggle.
In the last four years with the club, Norde has created an untouchable bond with the fans. The day his departure was officially announced in a press conference, he broke down embracing the fans and said, "You can compare the club with every team in the world but you cannot compare the supporters. It's very hard for me seeing the supporters cry."
In fact, the day before his departure in January 2018 due to a torn meniscus in his right knee, nearly 20,000 fans flocked the stadium donning masks made after him. Norde has since then, undergone a surgery in Argentina and has been actively posting videos of his recovery in Miami.
Despite being deleted in half an hour, this post naturally caused a huge social media uproar amongst the fans as it was believed that the club was in talks with a Spanish defender who would complete the quota of six foreigners. Such was the reaction of the fans that it almost sent the officials into a knee-jerk reaction who were awaiting on Norde's fitness; and hardly 48 hours later, the club officially announced Sony Norde's arrival.
In an official statement via the club's official Facebook page, Mohun Bagan director Swapan Sadhan Basu said, "With immense pleasure, I wish to announce that Mohun Bagan has completed the signing with Sony Norde for 2018-19 football season. He is in Miami and will apply for his employment visa by today (Thursday) for which the necessary formalities are being addressed."
"He has agreed to undergo the required medical and physical fitness test upon his arrival in Kolkata. He will be registered with The Indian Football Association (WB) after successful completion of medical and physical fitness test."
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank the two Directors Srinjoy Bose & Debashis Dutta for their effort in finalising the contract with Sony. I would also like to thank Arnab Mukherjee who was in constant touch with Club and Sony."
"I wish the team all the best for I-League."