Don’t see why Chennaiyin FC can’t go for third Hero ISL title: Debjit Majumder

Debjit Majumder recently joined two-time Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions Chennaiyin FC from SC East Bengal. After inking a multi-year deal, the 33-year-old Bengal goalkeeper is hopeful as regards Chennaiyin FC’s trophy chances in the 2021-22 season. Debjit, who has 44 Hero ISL games and one trophy to his name so far, spoke to in an exclusive interview and discussed a score of topics, from his targets with the new club, to his performance last season with the Red and Gold Brigade, to the most crucial decision of his career, to his view on the Hero ISL and his early life in football, among many others. Here is the interview in full.

First of all, congratulations on the Chennaiyin FC contract. We heard that you were in contacts with a few other clubs too. Why did you choose Chennaiyin FC at last?

I heard a lot of positive things from some of my teammates like Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh. About their good management, ambience, supporters and fanbase. I was impressed. That’s why I decided to join Chennaiyin FC.  

Tell us about your early life in football. Like, how did you start playing football, who brought you to football?

Football is my favorite since my childhood. That’s why, my father took me to our local club Netaji Brigade, where I started to learn football. Then I was eleven. Three years later my father passed away. Since then, Sanjay Chakraborty, one of the officials at Netaji Brigade, has been the friend, philosopher and guide for me. He helped me a lot in my football journey, which started with playing for FCI (Food Corporation of India) in the Kolkata league. Then, I was called up to join the U-21 squad of Bengal. Played for Kalighat MS also.

Then, the great Bhaichung Bhutia called me up to join his club Sikkim United. But I couldn’t remain there more than three months because of the call to join the Bengal squad for the Santosh Trophy and National Games. We won both the tournaments and East Bengal approached me while playing for Bengal. I signed for them but didn’t get enough match time there. That’s why I decided to join second-division club Bhawanipore under Jose Ramirez Barreto to get enough match time. After playing for them for two years, I joined Mohun Bagan and won the Hero I-League with them.

After representing East Bengal in 2011, you joined a second-division I-League team. Why did you decide to join a lower-division club? Wasn’t that a demotion for you?

It was really a tough call. But I had to because I didn’t get enough match time at East Bengal as Sandip Nandi was their first choice. I got to play only four matches in the whole season. At the age of 19-20, I needed match time as much as possible. The weight of the club, more money was less important for me then. That’s why I took up the offer from Bhawanipore. I got maximum match time there, which I badly needed. In those two years, I played at least 50 matches every season and that gave me immense confidence.

When I joined Mohun Bagan AC after two years, I was super confident, I knew I could take the pressure of playing for a big club. In 2015, we became the Hero I-League champions and I won the award for the best goalkeeper. That’s why, those two years at Bhawanipore were most important for my career and the crucial decision was absolutely right. I still carry that confidence I gained during that period.

You have won two Hero I-League titles with Mohun Bagan AC and one Hero ISL title with ATK FC. Which one is most memorable?

It’s very difficult for me to choose the best or most memorable one. Because, those three titles are equally important and great. Even if I am playing in the Hero ISL nowadays, I still feel proud to be a Hero I-League champion twice.

You have changed the track several times in your career. Left Hero I-League clubs for joining Hero ISL clubs and vice versa. Do you think, these frequent changes affected your career slightly? What’s your thought about this?

Not really. I told you earlier, why I left a big club to join a second-division I-League club and how it worked well. I always took decisions according to situations. If my intention remains the same… to give my 200 percent in every match and training sessions… it becomes less important which club I am playing for or which league or tournament I am playing in. So, I don’t think those changes, that you are talking about, affected my career graph negatively.

Now, if we go back to the last season, for SC East Bengal, you had great stats. In 15 matches you had 50 saves and your saves percentage was more than 71. Supporters and the media started calling you ‘Savejit’. Despite this great form, you were not given a place in the first eleven in the last five matches. Was there any injury issue or you were simply given a rest?

Like 2015 to 2017 and 2020, I spent a lot of happy hours last season. But I didn’t have any injury issue or need of rest in the latter part of the league. Selecting the final team is the coach’s call. I have nothing to say about it. I always make myself ready for the action and in those last matches did the same. I never get disappointed, if I am not given chances to play. I wasn’t disappointed or upset with the decision taken by coach Robbie Fowler. He explained to me that as the team’s chance to get into the semi-finals was nil, he wanted to observe other players for next season. That’s why, he kept me out of the first eleven in those matches. I wouldn’t be upset even without his explanation. Because, I know, my job is to take part in training and play matches.

Throughout the last season, Robbie Fowler and his support staff kept mentioning that the lack of enough preparation time was a major deficiency for the team. Do you endorse their view?

They were absolutely right. Football is a process and to become a major league champion, a team must go through that process completely. Pre-season training is an important part of this process, which we couldn’t have properly because of time pressure. During the season, you can’t train properly. You have to spend most of your days off to recover. We get very little training time. That’s why, we have to complete most of the training in the pre-season camp. We played our first match of Hero ISL 2020-21 on November 27, the derby. We started our camp on October 30. We hardly had 25 days to prepare ourselves, which is not enough at all for a newly formed squad and new coaches. Other teams had more than a month for preparation. We required at least 30 to 45 days of training before the league started.

Now, coming back to Chennaiyin FC, they were the runners-up in 2019-20 before becoming the number eight team last season with only three wins. Besides they conceded 23 goals. Isn’t joining this team a huge challenge for you?

Yes, it is. But I have always faced a lot of challenges. Playing for Kolkata giants ATK FC and Mumbai City FC have always been a huge challenge. So, I am not worried about challenges to come. Remember, Chennaiyin FC is the Hero ISL champion twice and runners-up once. No team can have same momentum in every season. There are ups and downs. We have a good team with good management and I have heard about the positive ambience of the club. Our supporters are also very cooperative and inspiring. So, I don’t see any reason why we can’t go for the third title this season. This club plays for the trophy and my goal also is to bring the trophy. That’s why I have chosen the Chennai-based club.         

To reach the milestone of 50 Hero ISL matches, you need six more games. You first played in the Hero ISL in 2015. What are the changes and developments you have observed during this time? Also, there will be more Indians on the pitch from next season. What’s your take on that?

It’s a great decision. I am delighted to hear the news. Indian footballers will get more options to prove themselves on a big platform. The up-and-coming players will also get more motivation for performing well. For the Indian team and their coaches also, it’s going to be helpful as they can observe more Indian players in different positions before selecting the Indian squad.

Nowadays, many good young foreign players like Bright Enobakhare, Hugo Boumous and Scott Neville are joining the Hero ISL clubs. Therefore, quality of football is increasing gradually. Adjusting with them makes Indian players sharper. Our players are getting more confident. This will help Indian football directly. Infrastructure in the league has always been great since the early years. Rather, it gets better every year.

Finally, which team is your favorite to win Euro 2020?

It’s very difficult to predict the score as two super powers of Europe are meeting each other. But to be honest, my bet will be on Italy. Though England have played well throughout the tournament and the English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been brilliant, I think Italy can prove themselves better than England.


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