The assistant coach of SC East Bengal spoke about his move to India, the club’s foreign signings and working with the domestic contingent.
The seventh edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) will see 11 teams competing. The league will also see two iconic clubs from Kolkata Mohun Bagan and East Bengal participating for the first time. The former will feature as ATK Mohun Bagan following the merger, while East Bengal roped in Shree Cement as their principal sponsors, thus making their way into Indian football’s top flight.
SC East Bengal, the newly-branded entity, hired Liverpool great Robbie Fowler as their head coach. In addition, Fowler has brought along a highly-experienced technical staff and will be looking to leave an impression in his debut season in India.
On the last day of the auspicious Durga Puja, SC East Bengal went live on Instagram with their assistant coach Tony Grant who spoke on various topics. Grant himself has a wealth of experience playing in the top tier of English football for teams like Everton and Burnley .
Dressed in kurta-pyjamas, Tony Grant started off by greeting the fans on the occasion of Navami and said, “It (kurta) suits me right? Maybe next year I can come over and celebrate the festival over here.”
When questioned about how the lockdown affected the players, he said, “This is a new experience for everyone and football is no different. The players are locked in their rooms for two weeks after a long journey, but you have to get on with it. We are raring to go on the pitch as soon as this gets over and we are just five days away.”
Since joining, the only way for the coaching staff to communicate with the players has been through video conferencing. Speaking on the topic, he remarked, “The communication is fine, but there is nothing we can do about it. We asked them to do stretching exercises, some strength work. We try to speak with the players every couple of days and they are all fine and raring to go.”
In the live session, the coach spilled the beans on the pre-season program. “The league is starting mid-November. We want players to tick certain boxes – the physical box, the technical box, the tactical box and the social box. We have certain training programs and players will be subject to adhering to them over the course of the season.”
Further, Tony Grant gave his thoughts on the move to India and Indian football. “We watch football globally. We’ve watch football from Australia – of Japan, of China, of India. We know it’s a new league, it’s a growing league.”
“I know how fanatic the fans are and I believe in the importance of foreign players. They help the Indian players to become better and I’m looking forward to see what the country has to offer,” he further added.
He also gave a brief insight on their new foreign recruits and quoted, “The players have played high quality football and have started when they were 13-14 years in the academies. They have a lot of positive attributes to offer to the team. The players we have got have had good careers in football. Infact, we have got players from the UK who could easily play in (English) Championship football.”
“They will bring their experience, their strength and their intelligence which will improve the local Indian players. The best way to learn is to play with better players. They have the standards, you learn, you listen everyday and you get better.”
East Bengal are the latest entrants in the ISL after having their sponsors finalized in September, meaning they have the least time to prepare for the forthcoming season. Tony Grant concedes that the situation is not ideal, but they will find a way to get things on track, “The situation is not ideal and we are not living in an ideal world either. As I said earlier, we have got a whole round program that will cover everything. We have players who understand the intensity of the game and as the competition develops, our players will become stronger as the games go by.”
Finally, the assistant coach gave his assessment of the squad by saying, “We have the quality that we have brought and we know what they are really good at. Whereas, for Indian players, we have not worked with them before, but we have seen them as long as we could. So, we have an idea how they play. The first impression is really good and we are really happy with the players that we have got,” concluded Tony Grant.