Indian Football Season Review 2018-19: East Bengal
Written by: Abhranil Roy
The Red and Gold Brigade finished second in the I-League in dramatic manner.
It is a well-known fact that statistics do not often tell the truth and the same can be said of East Bengal’s season.
Statistically, the Kolkata club was not good enough, they did not win any trophies (except the IFA Shield and the Governor’s Cup, both of which was won by younger/reserve squads) as they squandered their stranglehold over the Calcutta Football League to eternal rivals Mohun Bagan and lost yet another I-League title to newbies Chennai City FC.
However, reducing a seven-month long campaign to just trophies and final finishes would be a grave mistake. For most fans, this was yet another season which tested their unwavering faith and love for the club, but to the more observant ones, it also possibly laid the foundations of a stronger future. The style of football played, the quality of the foreigners who arrived which includes the likes of Johny Acosta, Borja Gomez, and Enrique Esqueda, the performance of academy graduates and the overall change in fan culture are all positive signs for the club which is all set to enter its 100th-year in existence.
Fact Sheet For Indian Season 2018-19
Season Finished: 2nd
Games Played: 20
Win %: 65
Last July, East Bengal announced that business powerhouse Quess Corporation would be investing in the club and as such, they renamed themselves as Quess East Bengal Football Club. With financial backing behind them, the club went on to sign several prominent players, both in the domestic and international circuit.
Rakshit Dagar, Kamalpreet Singh, Kassim Aidara, Bali Gagandeep, Kingshuk Debnath and Abhra Mondal were all roped in before the CFL. Bastob Roy was given the temporary managerial role, while the club worked actively behind the scenes to build a strong spine in the squad by signing excellent quality overseas players. As such, Johhny Acosta, Borja Gomez, and Enrique Esqueda were all announced one after the other, while former Real Madrid B manager Alejandro Menendez was announced as the new boss for the I-League season. East Bengal failed to defend the CFL title for the first time in nine years, but it was seen as a building block to better and brighter results by the fans.
Before the I-League, the Red and Gold Brigade flew to Malaysia for a three-week conditioning and match-fitness program. Before leaving, they also took on FC Goa in a friendly match which they lost 1-0. They played four games while stationed there, winning three of them and drawing one. A total of 13 goals were scored on Malaysian soil, with all the strikers showing fine form and touch in front of goal.
Underperformer of the Season
Rakshit Dagar: The former Minerva Punjab goalkeeper didn't have a particularly memorable season with East Bengal; his performances were abysmal, to say the least.
His presence between the sticks didn't show any signs of calmness or confidence at all.
Although the 26-year-old kept five cleansheets, he conceded 16 goals in 18 league fixtures, and also received two yellow cards.
Top 3 Performances
1. East Bengal 3-2 Mohun Bagan
2. East Bengal 2-0 Mohun Bagan
3. East Bengal 5-0 Shillong Lajong
East Bengal refrained to participate in the Super Cup to show solidarity to the I-League clubs who demanded a clear roadmap for the future from the All India Football Federation.
Manager's Report Card
Alejandro Menendez’s CV would put any manager currently working in the Indian circuit to shame and his football has certainly shown that. He was not in charge of the club during the CFL but in the I-League, the squad has shown that if executed perfectly, Menendez’s strategies are a sight to behold. Under him, the likes of Brandon, Laldanmawia and Lalramchullova have revitalized their form, operating in speed and style the likes of which was last seen under Trevor James Morgan in 2010.
Menendez has a possession-based, medium pressing style of football which also sees his forwards and wingbacks both making multiple intelligent runs behind the opposition defence which makes them very hard to track. Under him, the Red and Gold brigade did the league double over the Mariners for the first time since 2004. Having got the entire transfer window and pre-season at his disposal this year, one certainly expects Menendez to make a real impact for East Bengal next season.
Lessons to be Learned
East Bengal was taught the biggest lessons by the eventual champions Chennai City. It is impossible to win the exhausting competition that is the I-League without proper seasoning, conditioning and scouting which, unfortunately, the club did not have enough time to do due to the organizational changes that were being made off-the-pitch. Overdependence on the likes of Esqueda and Jobby Justin also cost East Bengal in the business end, as did the lack of a natural playmaker in the squad.
However, one is positive that having noted that, Menendez and his team will be working actively to address the flaw for the next campaign.
As an East Bengal fan, the curse of the I-League is real. We have been so close on so many occasions and this season looked like another one. The opening day win to NEROCA and then three subsequent losses and finally losing out to Chennai City on the final day felt like a sucker punch but I am positive about the direction in which the club is headed. I look forward to the next season, our centennial year.
Published: Sat Apr 27, 2019 01:37 PM IST