The Red and Gold Brigade finished ninth on the standings last season, following a near-last-minute entry into the league.
Despite being one of the biggest and oldest names in Indian football, SC East Bengal did not have the fairy-tale beginning they’d hoped for in the Indian Super League (ISL) last season. Their inaugural campaign in the league was a disappointing one to say the least. Their three wins out of 20 matches could only get them to the ninth position on the standings, just above Kerala Blasters and Odisha.
Following the less-than-perfect start in the ISL, their erstwhile manager Robbie Fowler and the club decided to mutually part ways last month. This means a new coach and new beginnings for the Red and Gold Brigade.
A completely new squad
One factor that may cost the team is the complete overhaul it went through this summer. With only nine players have been retained from Fowler’s camp, and it is yet to be seen how well the new set of players mix together and how well their on-field chemistry is. It usually takes a good couple of seasons for a squad to get the right flow and be on their winning ways, but time is something that the Kolkata side have lacked.
After a hurried entrance into this league last season, SC East Bengal had very little time to prepare and plan ahead. Expectations from the club are sky-high now and it is dependent on the coach and players to deliver and make the fans happy once again.
New face at the helm
After Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler fell short of the mark in his first Indian job, the club appointed Jose ‘Manolo’ Diaz to replace him. The Spaniard comes with bags of experience and has been bestowed with the responsibility to turn things around for the historic team. Much like his peers in Spanish football, he believes in a possession-based gameplay, something that starts from the back. A similar philosophy was sought after by his predecessor, but the players were not previously used to this brand of the game.
While the players needed might be available this time around, it will take a lot of chopping and changing to get a stable starting XI to satiate Diaz’s expectations from the squad.
Lack of depth in wing positions
In a campaign that runs for almost six months, having a good squad depth is of utmost importance. This is where East Bengal’s season can start looking like last year quite quickly if not managed properly. The team has a dearth of players in the wings as well as the full-back positions. Apart from the odd exception of Jackichand Singh, the Bengal club has no other out-and-out winger to put in the shift from the wide positions. This is possibly the reason why the 4-4-2 diamond formation has been used a lot by Diaz in the pre-season fixtures.
If we look at the defence, the amount of options in either side of the centre backs is scarce. Despite having good players at the heart of their backline, and having acquired last season’s golden glove winner in Arindam Bhattacharya, the team’s defensive record might look a shade like last season when they conceded 33 goals. The wide positions can be left open and vulnerable, susceptible to threats, which is quite appealing for teams with proper wingers.
Reliance on overseas forwards
During their squad overhaul, SC East Bengal brought in two talented and clinical goal scorers in Daniel Chima Chukwu and Antonio Perosevic. Seeing that a team cannot field more than four foreign players at a time, it’ll be difficult for the coach to always play the two new signings in every game. An ageing Balwant Singh seems to be the only experienced and proven forward on the bench, which just isn’t good enough. The question of squad depth is visible in this case as well.
It’s going to be a long season for Diaz if he doesn’t play his cards right and rotate his players properly.
Lack of creative forces
Having just one creative midfielder in your team doesn’t bode well, especially a club which had a hard time scoring enough times last season (22 goals, third lowest scoring team in 2020-21 season). The sole creative force goes by the name of Amir Dervisevic. The Slovenian has a good cross in him and can weave through balls as well as any other, but an injury or suspension can become a major inconvenience for East Bengal’s plans. Others like Amarjit Singh or Sourav Das are more of a sitting midfield player, someone who likes to pull the strings from the centre of the park. Dervisevic seems to be the only one capable of being the No. 10 in the team.
If not played at the right moments, or rather not overplayed, his absence could very well find the club in a sticky situation, one that is all too familiar to them.
An uncertain future off the field
Performances during those stipulated 90 minutes won’t matter if the club is not structurally and financially sound. SC East Bengal has been having some back-and-forth with their current sponsor, Shree Cement, who was so reluctant of funding the team that they almost pulled out of the sponsorship. It wasn’t until late in August this year that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had to step in and mend the relations between the two parties. For now, the situation appears to be stable, but this cloud of uncertainty looming over the club was a major reason behind the exodus of many players during the summer transfer window. If this is not resolved and dealt with soon enough, players might rethink their tenure at the club come the January window.
The odds are definitely not in the team’s favour as obstacles are aplenty. If the aforementioned factors are addressed with a certain promptness then Diaz and his players can look forward to a decent season. If not, the club might just find itself back in troubling times which will surely put a dent in their second year in India’s new top flight.