The Red and Gold seek a first I-League crown since the competition’s inception in what could be its last year…
Last season’s performance: Third
The Red & Gold ended their campaign in third spot in the 2016 edition of the I-League below arch-rivals Mohun Bagan and champions Bengaluru FC. Keeping up their tradition from the past few seasons they once again failed to mount a sustained title challenge. East Bengal were defeated on quite a few implausible occasions against some opponents who didn’t match up to them man for man.
The former Head of Youth Development and Hull City Trevor Morgan was reappointed as head coach of the club last year for what is his second spell in Kolkata. He was previously at the club between 2010 to 2013.
During Morgan’s previous tenure East Bengal clinched three Federation Cups, three Calcutta Football League titles alongside the IFA Shield, Mohammedan Silver Jubilee Cup and one Super Cup. Apart from these achievements, Morgan also coached the East Bengal side which went on to become the first ever Indian side to qualify for the AFC Cup 2013 quarterfinals without losing a single match in the tournament. The Englishman had also been the assistant coach of Indian Super League franchise Kerala Blasters in 2014.
The Red & Gold brigade have made some changes in their line-up from their CFL squad. East Bengal retained some of the players from previous seasons but they have released some of the Indian players who went off colour in the last campaign.
Transfers In: East Bengal have retained 12 players from previous season’s I-League squad in the name of seasoned campaigner Mehtab Hossain, Mohamed Rafique , Lalrindika Ralte, Bikash Jairu, Cavin Lobo, Abinas Ruidas, Prohlad Roy in the heart of the midfield as well as Arnab Mondal, Gurwinder Singh, Narayan Das, Rahul Bheke, Samad Ali Mullick, Koushik Sarkar in defense and Luis Barreto and Dibyendu Sarkar retained as custodians. The recruiters have gone full throttle to grab the services of several star Indian player like Jackichand Singh who single-handedly carried Royal Wahingdoh into the limelight alongside Aizawl FC skipper David Lalrinmuana. David has good prowess on set-pieces and also has an eye for goal. Romeo Fernandes and Rowlin Borges have also signed for the Kolkata club. Romeo will bolster the flanks whereas Borges will go head-to-head with Hossain for the holding midfielder’s role. With these inclusions, East Bengal have formed one of the country’s most star-studded midfield line-ups. In defence, the inclusion of Anwar Ali will bring more solidity and Gurung will add pace down the right. Upfront, budding striker VP Suher and young prospect Thonkhosiem Haokip will add more flare in attack.
As far as the foreign recruits are concerned, Haitian Wedson Anselme will play a major role in the team’s attacking line-up. Adding to that, Trinidad & Tobago national team striker Willis Plaza will also bolster the attack. Uganda international Ivan Bukenya will strengthen the defence as a foreign recruit. The club are still in search of a fourth foreigner to fill in the Asian quota with Japan and Australia being the markets targeted.
Transfers Out: Some of the players who were the backbone of the side during last few seasons , left the club for greener pastures. Harmanjot Singh Khabra , fondly named as HK7 by the aficionados has joined reigning champions Bengaluru FC. Apart from him,Tulunga, veteran Deepak Mondal, CS Sabeeth, Joaquim Abarnches also left the club. Foreigners like Korean Do-Dong-hyun and British defender Callum Angus were also released by the club officials.
Formation and Tactics
Morgan has traditionally preferrred an attacking team in a 4-1-3-2 formation. However, with the squad at his disposal this time around the Englishman has the option to switch to a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 as and when needed. Wedson will play in the hole but can also play upfront. Ruidas and Romeo will provide pace and directness on the wings, with Plaza and Haokip leading the line.
In the event of a change of shape Wedson will push upfront aloongside Plaza with Rafique likely to move into the whole or visca-versa. Borges and Hossain could both start in a 4-2-3-1.
Player to Watch: Rowlin Borges
Rowlin Borges was one of the finds of Indian football in 2016. National team coach Stephen Constantine has heavily relied on the lanky midfielder to provide muscle in the middle of the park. Borges also put in a stellar show in the ISL for NorthEast United becoming a regular starter for the Highlanders. He will provide competition for veteran midfielder and old warhorse Mehtab Hossain. Borges was chosen as the AIFF Emerging Player of the Year in 2016 capping off a breakthrough year and now he joins the Red & Gold looking to fire them to their first I-League crown.
The 2017 I-League is going to be make or break for the Red & Gold brigade as they have not clinched the league since its inception. With a merger with the ISL mooted this could the last opportunity for the Kolkata club to get their hands on the top flight in its current avatar. With the extent of investment made in the squad it is clear that the management is fully behind manager Morgan and they will expect their faith to be repaid with the title.
Editorial by Guest Writer and East Bengal fan Sohan Podder.