The Hero I-League champions, Mohun Bagan, have already set a benchmark, having defeated Tampines Rovers in their AFC Champions League Preliminary Round 1 match. Albeit the Mariners failed to stage a win against Shandong Luneng in their second AFC Champions League preliminary round match, they would represent the nation in the AFC Cup after 7 years along with Bengaluru FC, who will start their campaign against Johor Darul Ta’zim on 9th March 2016.
The Mariners have had a flying start in this Hero I-League season and they are the only team yet to be beaten in the league, such is their authority over their rivals. Cornell Glen, the Trinidad & Tobago-born striker, is in the form of his life since the start of the season and he has already found the back of the net four times in seven matches. Sony Norde, the Haitian play-maker, is also operating with all his suavity and providing the Mariners the cutting edge intensity in the midfield. Undoubtedly, the head coaches of their opponents have made a note of it and may very well be drafting strategies to calm down the deadly Mariners duo.
Both the Mariners duo, Cornell Glen and Sony Norde, took some time out to join www.i-league.org for a candid chat where they spoke about a lot of things including their love for Indian cuisine, first derby experience and more.
This was your first Kolkata Derby and you scored the equaliser for the Mariners. How did you cherish the moment?
CG: Truly awesome! I heard a lot about the high intensity of the Kolkata Derby, this was the first time I tasted it. Although I scored, my performance was below par and I could have played much better. Our Coach has shown faith in me and I should have performed much better. Anyways, we garnered one point and it’s the most important aspect in terms of the league.
Mohun Bagan fans have made you demigod following your stupendous show last season. Do you feel any extra pressure because of the stardom?
SN: You know, it happens with the ball players. When you deliver, fans will love it and you’ll find yourself in seventh heaven. I still cherish the golden moments from last year. The sea of supporters and their cheering were really unfathomable when we returned to Kolkata with the Hero I-League trophy, and to be honest, we almost had tears in our eyes. A football team is nothing without their supporters and we have to give our best for them. Call it a pressure only, as you’ll feel a pressure cooker over your head. Otherwise, it gets an adrenaline rush within you.
Things have gone pretty fast for you in the last two years and now you are representing Mohun Bagan in the continent. Did you imagine this on your first visit to Kolkata two years back?
SN: To be frank, no. The almighty has graced me with the Hero I-League trophy on my very first season with Mohun Bagan and now we are representing the nation in the continent. We have to shoulder huge responsibility and it’ll be very crucial for my own career as well. We have no other option but to give our best to pull through a formidable result in the AFC ties.
You have played in Shillong before moving to Mohun Bagan. How is Kolkata different from other cities?
CG: The fans out here are truly passionate and your performance will be under the scanner always, which sometimes really helps to perform at the optimum level. By god’s grace, I scored my first goal in my very first match of Hero I-League and the applause from the fans was mind-blowing. India is a vast country and every city has its own culture, so do Kolkata.
How did you feel when you touched down in Kolkata?
SN: I can’t undermine the supporters with a mere thank you statement. They have been very cordial to me since my day one in the city. It was really a taxing journey from Haiti, but on arrival at Kolkata, I felt at home. I never felt left out in Kolkata and once again the city welcomed me with a big heart.
Both of you have represented your national teams on the biggest stage. Where do you think, we must stress on to improve the national team performance?
CG: See, the national team can’t be made overnight. It’s a rigorous process and it starts with the youth development. India, being a country of 1.3 billion populations, has a massive talent pool and definitely there’s no dearth of talent in India sans the proper coaching modules.
I come from a country of just 1.5 million populations. We had put more stress on the youth development regime, and eventually, we qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, a massive feat for any nation across the globe.
SN: In the last two years, there has been an upsurge in Indian football and definitely the bar has risen. I’m close to Sunil Chhetri, the skipper, Jeje, Pronay and some other guys who represent the national team. Winning the SAFF Championship was a great feat indeed, and recently the U-23 boys have earned the silver medal in the SAG as well. The day is not very far when India will rub their shoulders with the football superpowers of the world.
Which club do you support in world football?
CG: Chelsea. Personally, I still idolise George Weah and fell in love with Chelsea since he joined them, back in 2000. This season, they had a start which definitely they weren’t looking for but hopefully they’ll finish off in the top half.
SN: I’m a big Real Madrid Fan but in EPL, it’s always Chelsea for me. I just love Eden Hazard, what a player he is!
But you fancy the number 16, not 10?
SN: Yes (smiles). To some players, jersey numbers carry immense value but for me, the game on the pitch matters. Be it 10 or 16, it’s the same Sony who’s donning the Mohun Bagan jersey.
Which Kolkata food do you guys prefer?
CG: I had Chelo kabab at Peter Cat, truly it’s awesome. I am in love with the Arsalan Biriyani too. The aroma is truly fantastic.
SN: Chicken or Mutton with steamed rice. It’s something which gives me a homely touch.
Given a choice, which one would you take? A win in the Derby or a win in the AFC Cup?
CG: Yes, absolutely. I completely understand the supporters’ emotions and respect their passion. Even if we fail to get all three points from the derby, we still stand a chance in the league. But, In the AFC competitions, you have to face off with the best of the lots across the continent, you have to produce your best performance to churn out a result and you won’t get many matches to prove yourselves. I’ll always put more priority on an AFC game than the Derby. More we play on the bigger stage, the better for Indian football.
SN: Mate, I would grab an AFC win with both hands. The supporters are emotionally connected to the derby and it (derby) draws thousands of supporters to the stadium, but from club vantage point a win in the continent stage is huge. Be it a derby or any other match in the Hero I-League, we have to play with same intensity. Definitely, the adrenalin rush is there in a derby, but at the end of the day, it’s no different than any of the other Hero I-League matches. AFC Cup will be our real test now after triumphing the Hero I-League last year.