Interview with Bibek Bhowmik (ONGC Football Team Manager)

The football team of ONGC from Mumbai returned to the I-League a couple of weeks back after having been relegated to the 2nd Division a year ago. Their manager Bibek Bhowmik is the man in the background of the ONGC football team, who has given time and effort to get the team into the I-League and bring them back there again. I had a chance to catch-up with Bhowmikda and get to know more about ONGC's football team - where they came from, where they are now and would like to go in the future.

Congratulations on getting promoted! How relieved are you now that your team has returned to the I-league after a season in Division 2?

Thank you very much for the compliments which off-course goes to the players and Coach Caetano Pinho for their hard work, determination and grit to try make impossible possible. Relieved?! You know, again the loads and loads of unimaginable work like mainly building up the team timely is the biggest task and second comes the training schedule and venue for the team as there is no good training field available in Mumbai.

Again the whole years load starts from the month of May, after immediately completing last years course. No rest, No respite. Probably I like the way not to be relieved. But yes Arunava, I could have also thought the way 'relief' means had it not been 'passion' and as people call madness or craze for football. Its not only an assignment by my employer, it is a sweet task and responsibility I like and enjoy.

How difficult was the season being out of the I-League for you and your team?

It was difficult for me personally as it took lot of hard work, toil and renouncements (like getting almost alienated from family and festivals). You know that since ONGC began sponsoring the National Football League in 2004 and when I had some very good players in our team as recruited employee players, I started dreaming to create an ONGC football team. But channelising the team through some state Football Association was very difficult. Mumbai District FA Com. Kehar Singh and his collegues gave me a start from the Mumbai Super League in 2005/06 and there begun the journey. Next three years, our ONGC team not only qualified for the Mumbai Elite League, it became a team for the 2nd Division then National League, now I-League.

And every time we reached the Final rounds and missed qualification by a whisker. That however did not deter me and I was more sort of dedicated, aggressive to achieve it. And, you know, in 2009/10, ONGC made history by qualifying as undefeated Champions in Bangalore.

Regarding difficulties. I must confess that once you slip down you start getting a second category treatment. I also started feeling inside as convinced to continue with a formidable team initially right from the start of season getting a jolt, then comes other facilities which are needed for the team training, etc. Others like Federations and Associations also look upon you as if you have been to the premier league once for a life time and that's enough for you. It becomes difficult to keep yourself motivated.

Fortunately, our Director (HR) and Head sports of the ONGC Sports division had always believed in me and my ability, and reposed their faith. However, building up a team though suffered as good level players were already out of market and mediocre players only were left to be taken. But, honestly, these players listened to me always, carefully and asking for their whole hearted contribution - they did.

Anyway, I am thoroughly a positive man - always try to do something which shall help football and football players for their career and eventually raising the 'flag' of our ONGC everywhere. ONGC gives me bread, but allowed me to nurture my dream and make it real. My family - particularly my wife and daughter have though suffered over the last 4-5 years as they had to do all and everything on their own, but they were my Great Inspiration, always boosted me and they pampared me to do some good for football in India.

There have been questions raised about ONGC's status as a professional football team as per the AFC Club Licensing criteria and therefore not being allowed to play next season's I-League. Can you clarify that from ONGC's point of view?

Yes. As per the AFC criteria, an I-League team would require primarily 'Legal Entity" i.e. a football company. Which is not possible under the prevailing structure as our ONGC is a PSU (Public Sector Unit) and there is a long way to take up such task. Air India and HAL also fall in the same category!

Now the point is that there are very few PSUs who have not only been contributing in greater area of football, they are also bringing qualify of life of football players by establishing their lives through employment. They are also maintaining some above 20 contractual players who would not have such better pay had these PSUs were not there. In a professional set up while you can nurture some special objective of building up a National Futures, you may also consider of having these PSUs who have been hand in hand with the Football Federation to support and raise football in India.

ONGC have been sponsors effectively from 2004 to 2009 besides sponsoring the Nehru Cup twice in 2007 and 2009. All this shows the keen interest of the authorities in ONGC for the growth of football in the country. ONGC has come to stay in the I-League and certain (if you realistically feel) documents should not be an impediment to the best driven organisation to go out of national football scenerio. I believe that concerned agencies shall be convinced realising the PSUs contribution and difficulties - both.

The AIFF is said to have approached you, if ONGC could play their home matches in Delhi instead of Mumbai where there are already two I-League teams. Is this something ONGC is considering?

AIFF has not approached to us so far for a venue elsewhere. See, Federation I mean, AIFF is the highest body of the country and they know how to implement the channel of football for the growth around the country. Yes, there have been talks with I-League CEO Sunando Dhar and me discussing on this also from the point of view that from the Northern part of India there is no I-League team and further, Mumbai is already having three teams.

ONGC has very strong presence in Delhi, Mumbai and in several parts of the country. If ONGC wants to popularise football in some parts of its activity area by having few I-League matches there, what is the harm. You know, professional football teams needs to have huge supports. Media coverage and publicity - nationally and internationally are to be considered and reviewed.

However, there has been no official approach by AIFF, and neither we have fancied the idea, though I repeat again that 'support from your own people, fan base creation, facilities by your own asssociation for training fields and professional attitudes' are definitely going to be deciding factors.

How the squad planning going ahead for next season? Any signings that you can name already?

For build-up of next years team, I can say that most of our contractual players are already in contract upto July, 2012. Now that we need to look for I-League effective players (this does not mean that our existing slots would not be chosen - many of them should stay as I feel).

In a PSU as you know there is some pattern and time schedule for the process of the job. Here too, we are through scouting process and finalisation would be soon expected. We would like to build up a very young side team with few experienced players and off-course some good foreign players too we are looking for. Besides good players, in ONGC, we need good boys too which is very essential to maintain discipline, harmony and commitment. Luckily, I have always got good boys in the team. My good luck, you can say!

And, regarding our planning of training, we are looking for pre-season training in Goa, because now most of the grounds have become synthetic turf except in Goa. We now have to play in Gangtok, Shillong therefore we are considering some days high altitude training after we gather our team.

Participating in some good tourneys, I hope, would also help making team bind in order. That is what I can say how. My primary job now is to pick boys for the team and complete the job, with provision of fund to run the team. That's first.

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