Muttath Suresh, the wall that stood strong for East Bengal

    Former East Bengal defender Muttath Suresh is hopeful of seeing the Red and Golds to play in the Indian Super League…

    Physically strong, tall and committed – retired Indian national team centre back Muttath Suresh left a lasting legacy in Kolkata with his performances for East Bengal

    During a stint that lasted seven years, Suresh has been part of several memorable Kolkata derbies, success stories and emotional moments with the Red and Golds. He is part of a long list of talented footballers from Kerala to have done well at a place that is famously known as the ‘Mecca of Indian Football’. 

    The footballer, who grew up with the sport that his father also played, was vital for the defence of the India national team as well. Alongside his medals for National Football Championship (NFL), ASEAN Cup and Federation Cup wins with East Bengal is the proud honour of a South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup victory with India in 2005. 

    Throughout his professional career, Suresh was a rock-solid wall that strikers ran into. He was an imposing figure and knew how to lead his team from the back. He was one of those footballers who knew how to play out from the back. He also possessed a good left-foot.

    His special traits were spotted early on by coaches when he played for the Calicut University team and then later for the state team in the Santosh Trophy. It didn’t take long for the defender to get a call from Mohun Bagan, one of the oldest clubs in India. 

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    “I had only heard about how famous footballers who I liked spoke on how it is special to play in Kolkata. I was very happy when I got the chance to play there,” Suresh, who is currently working in Kerala’s health department, told Goal

    The defender from Kasargod left Bagan after he received a better offer from Mahindra United but destiny took him straight back to Kolkata, this time to a region that boasted of different colours – the Red and Golds. After all these years, he still remembers how football is talked about in Kolkata and that is a result of undying passion and support for regional clubs that are not seen anywhere else in India. 

    “I switched from Mohun Bagan to Mahindra (United). The fan atmosphere was different, we can really feel it. The people in Kolkata know you when you go outside. We didn’t have mobiles back then but then they took autographs from you. 

    “I played for EB in 7 years. When we play well, the reaction is great and they love you. But if we lose, they abuse and throw stones. It is like that,” the defender said. 

    One of the most anticipated showdowns in Indian football is the Kolkata derby, a fixture that Suresh has been fortunate enough to be a regular part of during his playing career. Suresh loved the derbies and enjoyed playing under pressure, thanks to his experience of playing Sevens football in Kerala. 

    “The Salt Lake stadium is special and it adds to the atmosphere of a Kolkata derby. Only those who feel it will understand. I was amazed when I played in the derby for the first time. But playing Sevens football in Malappuram helped me deal with the pressure. It was easier to play in derbies for me. The atmosphere is electrifying, and it is an unforgettable moment in my life.”

    Suresh has been blessed with a lot of emotional and successful moments in his career but there were a few iconic moments that stood out. He captained East Bengal as they won the Federation Cup in 2007 and was part of the team that became ASEAN Cup champions in 2003. 

    He was selected for the India national team after he performed well for the U-21 team and senior players were rested as the Blue Tigers travelled to the Maldives to play the MFF Golden Jubilee tournament in 2000. The centre-back scored a goal for the country in the Afro-Asian games in 2003 as hosts India defeated Rwanda 3-1 in the group stage.

    Suresh reminisced, “I used to play for the U-21 India national team. I was selected for the senior team after the Santosh Trophy in Thrissur when senior players were rested for a tournament (MFF Golden Jubilee Tournament in 2000) in the Maldives. The moment when I scored for the national team is special for me. To score a goal for your country is a dream for all players.”

    Having played a lot of derbies with East Bengal, Suresh is hopeful that the long-standing tradition can continue despite Bagan merging with Indian Super League (ISL) club ATK to form a new entity ATK Mohun Bagan. A Kolkata derby in the ISL is what Suresh wants to watch.

    “I wish to see East Bengal play in the ISL. We will miss Kolkata derby. People in Kolkata seem to be confident that East Bengal will play in the ISL. It will be good for the atmosphere.”

    The Coronavirus pandemic has kept Suresh busy in recent months as he continues to work for the health department in Thrikkarippur but he remains as committed to football as he was when his first took the field. 

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