The Spaniard also revealed the Red & Gold Brigade will have two captains for the upcoming seasons.

After undergoing a massive overhaul in the summer, SC East Bengal venture into their second Indian Super League (ISL) season seeking redemption. With a new squad and head coach at helm, the Red & Gold Brigade aim to assume their place among the top sides in the ISL.

SC East Bengal manager Jose Manuel ‘Manolo’ Diaz has held squad training for the last few weeks now. He’ll still need time to implement his vision into the squad, but has a decent impression of what he’s dealing with. On Monday, the Spanish coach held a virtual press interaction to speak about his experience so far.  

Intial impressions and philosophy

SC East Bengal have put together a new look squad after last season’s debacle in the ISL. Speaking about the squad at his disposal ahead of the forthcoming season, Manolo Diaz looked vibrant.

“In the first two weeks, I got to know more about the squad. In this moment, we have many players. We are testing them. In the next weeks, we are going to shape up the final size of the squad.”

The tactician also opened up about his coaching philosophy and his plans on implementing it in the East Bengal squad.

“We look for a balanced team. We look for a squad that involves all the players working in the attack and defence. In the same time, we are making a strong, aggressive team of domestic players. We want to improve the level of every player in the squad,” he explained.

“When we finish to check the skills and qualities of the squad, we decide there is a way to play against our opponents. We are ready to implement different systems and are ready to adapt our philosophy according to the opponents in the ISL.”

Taking up SC East Bengal job, bio-bubble and future improvements

The 53-year-old was asked about what enticed him to take up the offer at SC East Bengal, considering he has prior experience of working with Spanish giants Real Madrid.

“I decided to come here because it’s a very important club in India. Also, I had opportunities to continue training in Spain but I wanted to get some international experience. I know that East Bengal is one of the biggest clubs in India with a history of over 100 years, so that was enough for me to accept the offer,” he revealed.

Similar to the previous season, the ISL teams will be staying in a bio-bubble in this campaign as well, for nearly six months. When asked about how challenging the prospect of staying apart from family and friends for that long can be, Diaz said, “We don’t have any experience of staying in a bubble like this for six months. But we prepared mentally and physically for this bubble. We know the conditions, the rules and we are ready.

“By the time the ISL starts, we are going to play one match every three, four, five days and during that period time will pass on quickly. Because we will be focused on our games and we put all our energy in our performances. As a result, we probably will not think much about the bubble.”

SC East Bengal had a forgetful debut season under Robbie Fowler in the ISL, finishing at the ninth position at the standings. Manolo Diaz was quizzed regarding whether he saw their performances then and the areas of improvements he wants to make.

“The past is the past. The numbers are the numbers. The last season has passed. We are thinking about this season and are focused on this season. We like to improve significantly from last season because we want the best for East Bengal,” he quipped.

Thoughts on ISL, scheduling and tactical set-up

Manolo Diaz also spoke about his initial thoughts of the ISL, saying the league is developing and he would like to help in it.

“We know many Spanish players are playing here and there are many coaches here. Alejandro Menendez, of course, managed East Bengal in the past. The perception of the ISL is that it’s developing, step by step. We want to help towards the development of the Indian players and the level of the ISL,” he said.

He also spoke on his perception of the quality of the Indian footballers so far, stating he has seen ‘good’ skills in the friendly games and would like to build on it.

“We have tested the Indian players and the total squad in two friendly games. We have seen good skills. But we have to improve in terms of tactical movement. We are in the right way to get to our best.”

The SC East Bengal head coach claimed he knew about the ISL before coming to India, revealing he heard about the organization skills of the Indian top-flight in Spain.

“In Spain, we heard news about the very, very good organization of the ISL. For that reason, I decided to come here. Also, we know about having six foreign players in every squad. We know the skill of the Indian players. They are quick and in good physical condition. I’m very excited to improve the quality of our squad. The reason I’m here is because of the great organization of the ISL and mainly to develop the Indian players.”

SC East Bengal will face arch-rivals ATK Mohun Bagan in the Kolkata derby in their second ISL game itself this season. When asked about whether he’s satisfied with the scheduling of his side’s games, Diaz said, “It’s a very, very important match. We want to win it not only for the three points but also to give happiness to our supporters. We are thinking about the entire season. We want to get three points from the derby, but also want to do the best through the 20 games. But we’re ready to win the derby even if it’s only the second ISL game of the season.”

The Spaniard spoke a bit about his tactics, opening about the formation he likes to play the most. “I come from Real Madrid and have a strong mentality. I want to win every match. The formation depends on the opponent and the strengths of our squad. We adapt to different situations before the match and during the match. We take the decision-making process in the right way,” he explained.

Future captain, message for fans and season objectives

Manolo Diaz was asked about who will be the SC East Bengal captain for the upcoming season. “At the moment, we have no captain. We are processing and knowing the skills as well as humane qualities of every player. We’ll take the decision about the captain in the next two weeks. But we’ll appoint two captains – of which one will be an Indian player and another will be a foreigner.”

The tactician also had a message for the East Bengal fans, “We want to give the best for the supporters. We are focusing in training every day to get better and better. We are working hard to get the best performances from every single player. We are confident about ourselves and we hope to get many wins for the East Bengal supporters.”

When questioned about how he’s deduced the tactical awareness of the Indian players as compared to the foreigners, Diaz said, “I’m demanding to improve the concentration among the Indian players. We want to get the control inside the pitch and ensure the Indian players don’t make mistakes. That’s the best way to improving the level of the players.”

Diaz also spoke about his targets for the coming campaign, saying: “We are taking things step by step, week by week and match by match. We’ll give our 100% to win every three points. We want to be in a good position at the end of the season, but we’re only going week by week now.”

Final thoughts

Despite having held training for only two weeks, the SC East Bengal squad now has to undergo another mandatory quarantine procedure in Goa. When asked about whether this can impact the momentum of his team, Diaz quipped, “We know the conditions and the rules of the ISL. We know we’ll have to quarantine for eight days. But we’re prepared mentally and physically for it. After the quarantine, we’ll only have 20 days before our first official match.

“We’ll work hard to do the best in that period. East Bengal’s technical staff don’t want excuses. We are ready to train under hard circumstances and are prepared for first match. No excuses at all,” he added.

The tactician also spoke about whether SC East Bengal will have any more practice games before the start of the ISL and his thoughts on the performances so far. “We are happy with the performances of our squad in the past two friendly matches. Obviously, we need to improve but they have been working in hard conditions in very high humidity.

“They are undergoing very hard physical training. We hope to get the best out of them. We’re happy, but we need to improve tactical, technical, and physical conditions. Our principles remain hard work, strong mentality, and an optimistic team. We are sure the squad will be at 100% of their skill in the ISL,” he concluded.

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