Mohun Bagan Super Giant were crowned Indian Super League (ISL) champions as they edged past Mumbai City FC at the Vivekanand Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Monday to win their first-ever League Shield. 

The Kolkata side backed up last year’s ISL Cup and their Durand Cup triumph earlier this season with the League Shield trophy to sit pretty at the pinnacle of Indian club football.

The Mariners are the only team to qualify for the knockout stage of the league in every season, making them one of the most consistent teams in the ISL since they joined the fray in 2020. 

However, Mohun Bagan SG, in the ISL, weren’t always the winning machine that saw them register a record points tally (48 points) in the current ISL this season. They had to go through a fair share of heartbreaks, lick their wounds and grow into the side that threatens to dominate the ISL now. 

Here is a look at the timeline of their journey from being the nearly men to being habitual winners: 

Twin heartbreaks against Mumbai City FC (ISL 2020-21)

Mohun Bagan SG emerged as a force to be reckoned with in their very first season in the ISL and led the ISL league table going into the final match of the season against Mumbai City FC who were then managed by Sergio Lobera. 

The Mariners though three points ahead were within reach of the Islanders, thanks to a superior head-to-head record, but a draw would have been enough to guide them to the League Shield in their very first season. However, a powerful Mumbai City FC performance saw them miss out on the Shield glory by the tiniest of margins despite finishing level on points with the winners. 

The heartbreak of that 2-0 loss in the final league game was doubled when the two sides met again in the ISL Cup final. The game in Goa was much closer than the one in the league and it seemed destined for extra-time until Bipin Singh slotted home a late winner to break the Mariners’ hearts. In a space of weeks, Mohun Bagan SG had finished second-best to Mumbai City FC and had to end the season empty-handed despite playing so well in their debut season. 

Another final-day Shield heartbreak (ISL 2021-22)

Mohun Bagan Super Giant, this time, under the tutelage of Juan Ferrando dusted themselves from the disappointment of 2020-21 to return to the point from which they had let the Shield title slip. Facing Jamshedpur FC on the last day of the league season, they needed a win to walk away with the Shield. 

Ferrando’s Mariners were favourites but Owen Coyle’s Jamshedpur FC had the momentum and they delivered the knockout punch in the form of a 56th-minute Ritwik Das goal that left Mohun Bagan SG needing two goals in the final 34 minutes, a situation they could never recover from. Jamshedpur FC won 1-0 and the Mariners had to be content finishing second-best again. 

Hyderabad FC too hot for the Mariners (ISL 2021-22)

Mohun Bagan SG were expected to enter the knockouts with a greater hunger to win after missing out on the Shield to Jamshedpur FC and it started on a positive note for the Mariners when a Roy Krishna goal gave them a flying start to the semi-final tie against Hyderabad FC. 

However, the home side stayed in the game in the first half to equalise just before the break and completely turn the tie in their favour in the second half securing a 3-1 first-leg win.

With all to do in Kolkata, Mohun Bagan SG were on the front foot from the word go but were frustrated by the Hyderabad FC's resistance. A goal in the 79th minute from Roy Krishna gave them hope but it just proved to be a consolation in the end as Hyderabad FC held on to reach the final. 

Mohun Bagan SG’s wait for their first silverware was further extended. 

The waist is over… after an agonising fight (ISL 2022-23)

Mohun Bagan SG’s ISL 2022-23 season suffered several roadblocks as their challenge for the League Shield faded away due to consistent injuries and an unstoppable opponent in Mumbai City FC that made a mockery of any attempts to make it a race for the Shield. Ferrando’s men had to dig deep in their final league games just to qualify for the knockouts and had to play a playoff tie against Odisha FC to reach the semi-finals. 

However, this late surge in the league season gave them the necessary momentum to see off Odisha FC and set up a semi-final rematch against Hyderabad FC. It seems Ferrando had learned his lessons from last season and ensured his team came away from Hyderabad with a draw in the first leg. However, Manolo Marquez’s side didn’t lay down in Kolkata and took the tie to penalties. It seemed that Mohun Bagan SG’s luck would desert them at the most crucial juncture again, but they rose to the occasion and won the shootout to reach the final after three years. 

The final against a red-hot Bengaluru FC was a hotly-contested one. A four-goal thriller saw the teams deadlocked at the end of the ninety minutes and there was no separating them after the additional thirty minutes too. Once again the lottery of the penalty shootout loomed against a team that had the reputation of winning titles. 

However, Mohun Bagan held their nerves to beat the Blues to finally lay their hands on their first silverware. 

The ISL Cup of 2022-23 seemed like a culmination of a journey of hurt and pain but it was to be the start. A start of something special. 

Green and maroon reign over the Durand Cup again 

The Mariners’ build-up to the ISL 2023-24 season was anything but smooth with the team facing challenges in Asia. The Durand Cup started on the worst note possible with the team losing to East Bengal FC in the group stage to end a long unbeaten streak against their arch-rivals. 

But Ferrando’s men once again showed their powers of recovery to win the remaining two group games and qualify for the quarter-finals that pitted them against an old foe in Mumbai City FC, the team that had romped to the Shield title the previous season. 

But on home turf, Mohun Bagan SG rewrote the history books as they triumphed 3-1 to post their first-ever win against the Islanders in any competition. The reward was a tie against FC Goa, now coached by Marquez and boosted by a host of top signings. 

But once again, the magic of the Salt Lake worked wonders and they emerged on top in a 2-1 victory to reach the final of Asia’s oldest football competition. 

The final was to be another spectacle with East Bengal FC, their enemy prime, standing in their way. A packed house in Kolkata housed an intense evenly-fought final which seemed to be going East Bengal FC’s way when Anirudh Thapa was sent off for a second bookable offence. But once again, as it had been in the cast in the past few months, adversity got the best out of the Mariners. Dimitri Petratos scored against the run of play to win the game, the bragging rights and the trophy for Mohun Bagan SG as they backed up the ISL Cup win with success in the Durand Cup. 

Mariners pip Islanders in a monumental battle for first-ever Shield (ISL 2023-24)

Mohun Bagan SG’s League Shield triumph with a record 48 points would give you an impression of a procession but as is with the Kolkata giants, it was anything but. A fast start to the league was punctuated by three straight losses in mid-season that spelt the end of head coach Ferrando. 

Amid concerns of another league collapse, a familiar face in Antonio Habas took charge of the affairs. A disappointing Kalinga Super Cup campaign wasn’t ideal preparation but Habas instilled a sense of calm at a crucial moment allowing Mohun Bagan SG to slowly grow into the second half of the season. 

A titanic battle towards the end of the end of the season saw the Islanders and Mariners match each other blow to blow which culminated in a season-defining game at the Salt Lake where the League Shield was to be decided. 

A win was needed for the Mariners, a draw was enough for Mumbai. Deja vu but with a small twist. Would history repeat itself against or would the Kolkata side be third-time lucky and finally win the Shield after a last-day battle? 

Cheered on by a packed house, Mohun Bagan SG crossed the hurdle. A 2-0 lead was halved with minutes to play just before the Mariners were reduced to ten men giving them a huge scare, but the men in green and maroon brought all their powers to the fore and crossed the finish line. 

The Shield that had found different ways to evade them was conquered, the tag of the nearly men banished. Mohun Bagan SG stood tall forcing the rest to look with envy. 

Can they now go and do the double and defend their ISL Cup title? Once a team that may have been fazed in the face of the task now seem like one that will grow with the increasing size of its challenge. The Mariners are on the march. Can anyone stop them?