The right back fell down the pecking order under Vicuna in the previous season after two stellar campaigns for Mohun Bagan…
Arijit Bagui became a household name in West Bengal under the aegis of Sanjoy Sen in 2017, with a string of impressive performances in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) and subsequently, in the I-League.
His tale is another run-of-the-mill story of a Maidan youngster who started his career with a lesser-known outfit, and after proving his mettle against either of the Kolkata giants, goes on to sign for them in the near future. In Bagui’s case, it was his goal against East Bengal in a CFL match while playing for Kalighat MS that catapulted him to the spotlight.
He used to be a winger back then who had pace to burn, coupled with an ability to put in measured crosses from wide areas. He remained a livewire for Kalighat throughout that season but unfortunately could not break into either Mohun Bagan or East Bengal. Instead, he joined Peerless SC where he was converted to a right-back by coach Fuja Tope. He adapted well to his new position and was finally roped in by the maroon and greens in the summer of 2017.
Pritam Kotal had left for Delhi Dynamos and Sanjoy Sen was opening to trying some new faces to fill in the vacancy. Sarthak Golui was one of the contenders but the defender was loaned out to FC Pune City. Next in contention was Gurjinder Kumar. The Punjab-born defender could not make the most of his opportunity and a defensive error in the league opener against Minerva Punjab sealed his fate for that season. Hence, Bagui was offered the chance and he did not disappoint.
In the next match against East Bengal, he put in a rock-solid performance at the back and was equally effective going forward. Sen was soon shown the door but Bagui retained his place under new coach Sankarlal Chakraborty and went on to play more than 1100 minutes in that edition of the I-League.
In the next season, he notched up his game a level higher and helped Bagan reclaim the CFL after a hiatus of eight years. He continued his rich vein of form in the I-League and although Bagan was struggling as a team, his contributions in defecse and attack were decisive. His performances were given due recognition by the club and he was awarded the Player of the Year gong.
Just when he reached the peak of his form, his fortunes went south. With the departure of Chakraborty, a Spanish era was ushered in at the century-old club with Kibu Vicuna at the helm.
“We went to Goa for pre-season. I tried my best to impress the new coach. But somehow I did not fit in his scheme of things. In the Durand Cup, I got one opportunity and I again put in my best. In Bangladesh, during one match I was substituted at half-time. I asked the coach where I was going wrong. Maybe I was not being able to deliver what he was expecting from me and thereafter, I hardly played in the entire season,” expressed Bagui to Goal.
But a lackluster season has not been able to break his spirit and the defender is preparing to re-establish himself at a new club.
“The 2019-20 season is in the past. Ups and downs are part and parcel of a player’s life. I am focussing on my fitness right now. It is important to be in the best of shape so that I can be ready for my next challenge. It was disappointing to sit out but now I am eager to prove myself again.”
He runs out of contract with Bagan on May 31 and is yet to sign for a new club.
“I have played at the highest level for two years and I believe that I can do it once again. If I have to move outside Kolkata, I am open to it. The only target is to get back into the starting line up and perform consistently,” stated Bagui.
Not long ago the 26-year-old was considered a hot property in Indian football. Some coteries of the Maidan even tipped him to be the next Surkumar Singh. Now it remains to be seen whether Bagui can live up to the potential and make a comeback or joins a long list of ‘what could have been’s.