East Bengal and NEROCA finished in fourth and second positions respectively after a dramatic final day of the I-League season.
Minerva Punjab FC finished on top of the table as the long I-League season came to an end. Although, the Warriors won the league, they weren’t sure about it till the final whistle of all the games of matchday 18 was blown. As many as four teams were in the hunt for the trophy which Minerva Punjab won thanks to their win against Churchill Brothers.
Khalid Jamil had a lot of expectations on his shoulderS. The coach who did the unthinkable with Aizawl fc LAST SEASON said that he isn’t sure what his next assignment will be for the East Bengal.
Despite having some of the biggest names in the league as players and as the coach, East Bengal were disappointing and were trailing for most of the campaign. Jamil believes that the team didn’t do well throughout the season.
He said, “There have been many games. We cannot blame one particular game for being second-best the entire season. The problem was that we couldn’t attack well when we were supposed to and couldn’t defend well when we were supposed to. This happened quite a few times.”
Khalid asserted that it was the high profile of the Red and Gold that motivated other teams to do well against them. He added, “Every team gets motivated while playing against East Bengal. They all are very strong and they know that whoever plays for East Bengal, he gives his all, his 100 percent and this could have motivated them to perform better.”
Khalid took the blame for the team’s failure to win the title sayong, “Only me, the coach is to be blamed for what has happened. Whenever a team loses, it is the coach who comes under scrutiny and I am responsible for the same. The players have been working very hard, the team officials are very good and helpful. They get us whatever we need.”
Minerva are deserved winners of the league and the East Bengal coach had no qualms in accepting that. He said, “We couldn’t win the I-League and it is my mistake. The ones who have won are the best team and they deserve it. They have worked hard for it.”
Jamil was disappointed with the fact that he couldn’t repeat the feat that he achieved the previous season. He, while concluding, said, “We (Aizawl FC) won last time, so I was happy. We couldn’t this time and I feel guilty and disappointed. We had a lot of expectations of fans this time and we couldn’t deliver.”
NEROCA finished as the runner-ups and their coach Gift Raikhan was happy about the position his team could finish the season with. “Last time I told you that I want to win the trophy. For me, the result doesn’t stress me. I am very happy with how the boys have reacted.”
Raikhan knew that winning the game could have bolstered their chances of winning the league and hence he was going for the win. But he couldn’t win it for his team even though things went as they expected them to. He said, “I was playing for the win, for the coach and for a team like NEROCA. but East Bengal is a very good team. I was expecting them to attack through Dudu (Omagbemi).”
It was the first season for the Northeast outfit in the top flight. While many did not give them any chance of going this far, they managed to produce a marvellous run in the long season finishing just behind champions Minerva. Coach Raikhan was a proud man and he dedicated his and his club’s achievements to the state they come from.
“I want to dedicate this performance to the lovely people of Manipur, the club and especially to my players, then to my family. it has been an incredible journey for me this year. I am very happy and satisfied at being coach here.”
When asked what the rationale was behind not going for big names like other teams, Raikhan explained that his team is not as wealthy as some other renowned clubs of the league and that he wanted to work with the youth who could understand him better.
He said, “Our club is a new club. We don’t have much of a budget. Rather than signing big names, I was looking for young players. I am a young coach and the players who can understand me, I like them.”
NEROCA might have come this far but they never expected themselves to. They always looked to settle for a top-four finish. The coach explained, “The expectations that we had from the beginning was we will try to be third or fourth, but to come second is more than enough for me and more than enough for NEROCA.”
While concluding, Raikhan explained the importance of a club like NEROCA that comes from a remote state and gives talented players tHE CHANCE against the best of the nation.
He said, “There are so many players from Manipur, they can play IN THE I-league, they can compete with the big names. I am happy that we could make a good team and match clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.”