The Spaniard was responsible for the Red and Gold’s first win of the season.
After Renedy Singh steadied the ship which was already rocking back and forth in troubled waters, new head coach Mario Rivera has been able to steer the dilapidated vessel towards the correct path. His first official match in charge was the 2-1 win against FC Goa. Rivera’s dream debut was significant, as he was the one to lead SC East Bengal to their first win of the season after 11 matches.
Despite not tasting victory since that fateful night, there have been signs of improvement in several areas. The process of sacking and replacing coaches does more harm than good, especially to a structurally unstable club like SC East Bengal. So, here are five reasons why the Kolkata-based side should back Mario Rivera and give him time to build a formidable team.
5. Knows what the club stands for
This isn’t Rivera’s first rodeo with the club. He was part of Alejandro Menendez’s backroom staff during the 2018-19 season in the I-league. He left at the beginning of the subsequent campaign, but was brought back as Menendez’s replacement in January 2020.
The tactician led the team to a second-place finish after only seven games in charge. The Spaniard finds himself in a similar pickle this time around and a top-four finish is certainly out of the cards. All the coach can hope for is to pick up a couple of wins and plan for next season.
4. Lends balance to team
“Football is about the balance between attack and defence,” Rivera said in his first pre-match press conference of the campaign. Despite suffering three losses so far, the performances have been starkly better as compared to the start of the season. If Manolo Diaz’s era was marked by confusion and Renedy Singh’s by defensive solidity, one may say that Rivera has been able to strike a balance in the team.
Players like Hira Mondal and Amarjit Singh have been a revelation in defence. Yes, leaking goals is still a major issue at the club, but scoring goals was non-existent up until Rivera’s arrival. We can look at the matches against FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC. In these games, they tried to defend with all their might and be effective on the break.
3. Bringing in new transfers
With the current season irrecoverable, Rivera can only look forward to the future. We have seen quite a busy January transfer window. SC East Bengal brought in four players in Marcelo Ribeiro, Fran Sota, Naocha Singh and youngster Rahul Paswan. Out of all the new signings, we have seen the most of the Brazilian striker.
He’s yet to put on his scoring boots, but his presence is certainly felt as a quintessential No. 9. We have also seen Rivera off-loading some members of the foreign contingent in Daniel Chima and Amir Dervisevic. These sorts of decisions are signs of intent and if given time, the Spaniard can surely build a team that fits his ideology.
2. Improvements in midfield
Pundits and fans alike have been pointing out the glaring lack of creativity in the team’s midfield. Truth was injected into this fear when there was a tangible disconnect between the backline and the forwards during the first half of the season. Mario Rivera has done well to instill a way of passing through the middle as often as possible. The tactic of lobbing long balls and hoping for the best has taken a back seat and for good reason.
Notable names which have thrived under the Spaniard include Naorem Mahesh Singh and Darren Sidoel. Both have scored some brilliant goals in the past few matches. With the arrival of new signing Sota, who is yet to start a match, we can expect the creativity of the squad to increase by a notch.
1. Improved mood of camp
One of the first things Mario Rivera mentioned after returning to the club was about the mood of the dressing room. “My first challenge would be to change the mood in the camp and recuperate the players’ mental state,” the coach had stated in his first press conference. He has done just that in the short duration he’s been in charge.
Getting that first win after such a long drought was key in tackling this challenge. Once that hurdle was surpassed, Rivera did well to imbibe much-needed confidence and self-belief in the players. This is visible on the pitch when they try to press on the opposition players, or try to come back into the game when they are trailing. The results might paint a totally different picture, but the head coach has been able to mould the squad into a collective unit, which gives its best on the pitch every time.