The East Bengal head coach also shed light on his experience of coaching an ISL club.

The reverse fixture of this season’s first ISL match is around the corner. East Bengal is set to take on Kerala Blasters in Kolkata on Friday. Stephen Constantine’s side will enter the game on the back of four back-to-back defeats. Thus, the side will be desperate to get a win on Friday to provide some respite to its fans. However, with the contrasting form in which the two sides are currently in, it is going to be an uphill task for the Kolkata-based side.

A day prior to the game, East Bengal head coach Stephen Constantine attended the pre-match press conference. Edited excerpts from the conference are as follows.

On the inclusion of Jake Jervis

Constantine sounded relieved that he will finally be able to field two foreign strikers in a game. He said, “We have been identifying players since October. Jake was one of those players whom we wanted to get as we need help up front. He will play the game tomorrow. This will be the first time two foreigners will begin a game on the forward line. I hope he has a good game.”

On how East Bengal will approach Friday’s game

Constantine talked about how his side is approaching Friday’s game against a strong Kerala Blasters. He heaped praise on Kerala Blasters and their squad and stated that Kerala deserves to be in third place on the points table.

“Kerala is a very good team. They deserve to be in the position in which they are currently. But we are at home and we will try to get something from the game. We are a different team from the first game and so are they. I don’t know how we lost the reverse fixture 3-1, but we did. I think it will be a difficult game. They have some very good players, both Indians and foreigners. But, we will try to get three points as we do in every game.”

Impact of registration ban

The British coach talked about how the team would have used the January transfer window in case the embargo was not imposed upon the club. He stated, “For signing more foreigners, we would have to pay off any of the other foreigners’ contracts from before. I personally don’t like that because it is throwing away money. In the case of Eliandro, we had to do it. Some of the other players we wanted to get on board are gone and now the window is closed. It (the player registration ban) has been an opportunity missed to strengthen the squad for next year.”

On East Bengal’s current position on the points table

Constantine gave reasons for East Bengal languishing in ninth place for quite some time now. He said, “I don’t think we deserve to be in the position in which we are but we are there because we lacked quality in key moments and expect not to be punished. The issue is that we are repeating many mistakes, which shows that there are some issues within the team in terms of ability and quality. That is why we need the window in summer to improve the team.”

Constantine’s experience of coaching an ISL club

The 61-year-old head coach expressed his feeling about being associated with an ISL club. he talked about his feeling about not being able to win games, yet said that he is fond of his work and being associated with a big club like East Bengal. “I am absolutely loving it. I love my job and everything associated with it, including both the good stuff and the bad stuff. Also, I am a little bit frustrated because I don’t love losing. But I think it is a massive challenge, it is a massive club, and I want to be the guy to put the club in the top six. We have lost many games that we should not have lost, and I take the responsibility for that.”

The mentor added, “We are better than the years before. Is it enough? No. But by the time we began preparing for the season, all the good Indian players and national team players were taken. So, we have to make do with who we have. These are the guys whom we have. I can tell you, they may not have the best quality, but they have worked. Today, they are better than they were six months ago. In different teams across different countries, there are different forms of problems. I cannot control if there is an embargo or not. I cannot control if the club does or does not do something. But, I try to control what I can control. I control my team, my selection, and the players whom I want to bring in.”

Major learning takeaways from the ongoing ISL season

The tactician talked about the major learning takeaways that he and his side learnt from the ongoing ISL season. He said, “You need to prepare better and cannot just turn up. Preparation for the next season started at Christmas. We are thinking about which players are available and our team’s budget. ISL is a league that has many different little things that you do not see in other leagues: four foreigners, you can have six but can play only four. It is not an easy league. There is a lot of travel and other difficulties. You have to be prepared in this league. You have to know the teams against whom you are playing. We should also not neglect the Indian players. The Indian players are the vehicles while the foreigners are the accessories. If you do not have six/seven top-quality Indian players, you are not going to be among the top six.”

Thoughts on the next season

Constantine stated his predictions on how the format of ISL might change in the upcoming season with the addition of another club from the I-League. He also talked about how the league can be made more competitive. He said, “We are going to be 12 teams next season, which is superb. I hope we don’t have the playoff system next season. I would prefer 12 teams home and away, 22 games. Then the top six, home and away. It will give us 32 games and fulfil the mandate of 28 games that the AFC requires. Then, the bottom teams, if we are going to relegate one or two teams, then they are fighting to prevent relegation. That will give us super competitiveness.”

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