It will be first time the Spanish tactician takes charge of the team in the tournament.
When it comes to first impressions, Alejandro Menendez definitely made his mark as East Bengal’s head coach, helping them lodge a strong push for the I-League title. For the first time in years, the management scene looked secure for the Red and Gold Brigade, but coming up empty-handed after such a prolific debut season must’ve left a bitter taste in the Spaniard’s mouth.
Indeed, his target has always been to bring trophies to East Bengal, supplemented with beautiful football to impress the fans. A purist in terms of giving more chances to youngsters and encouraging the spotlight on the domestic core, he craves for his team’s development and backing up success with silverware. After signing a three-year deal with the Red and Gold soon after the last campaign wrapped up, the Spaniard’s goal must be to make his side the most dominant team in the country.
As the new season approaches, he’s now out to form a strong unit in order to break his trophy duck in his second season. Before anything else, the Calcutta Football League is almost here, as East Bengal aim to reclaim their silverware after losing it to rivals Mohun Bagan last term. Menendez only watched from the stands during the final few matches last season, as assistant coach Bastob Roy took the helm, but he’s primed to take control himself this time around.
Before the season starts, the Spaniard’s working hard to convince his bosses to fix the cracks in the squad and make valuable acquisitions. Star signing Jonny Acosta has already confirmed he won’t be back for next season, while Mexican striker Enrique Esqueda and Toni Dovale are not expected to return either. While Menendez has done well to retain Borja Perez, Kassim Aidara and Jaime Santos Colado for the CFL campaign, he’ll definitely be aiming to add some more firepower before the tournament begins.
Moreover, it sure seems that both East Bengal and their tactician are taking the local league very seriously this time. With the CFL assured to be more competitive than ever before, with sides like Southern Samity and Rainbow AC also forming formidable units, it could be the right level of competition Menendez’s team needs in the build-up to the I-League. While new assistant coach Josep Maria Ferre Ybarz is expected to integrate his expertise towards winning the competition as well, the double signings of Pintu Mahata and Abhishek Ambekar show East Bengal’s seriousness going into the competition.
Both the players were proficient in guiding Mohun Bagan to an undefeated campaign under Sankarlal Chakraborty, with Mahata even netting against the Red and Gold. Perhaps an eye on the I-League title halted East Bengal’s momentum in a competition they’d won for eight years in a row, but that isn’t the case this time around. By helping them regain their reputation as the elite team in the CFL, Menendez could lay the foundations for what could be a memorable I-League season.
Moreover, now that he has the whole campaign to build his team around the style he believes in, dominating in the CFL with his fluid approach could bring rewards going forward. While there could be some trial and error in the CFL, he can at least risk on experimenting with some things knowing the superiority of his squad as compared to some other teams in the league. With certain tinkering, he’ll eventually find the perfect balance and possibly his best XI to stick with going forward.
The Spaniard’s love for giving youngsters a chance is also well known. Not only will the likes of Bidyashagar Singh and Manoj Mohammed get opportunities to shine, but promising youngsters like Gurmukh Singh, Dip Saha and Suranjit Singh could all receive opportunities to catch his eye.
However, a hurdle for him in the CFL comes in the way of playing at the East Bengal Ground. It’s because of the ground’s poor condition that the Spaniard worked against training there throughout last season’s I-League’s campaign. If he manages to play fluid football in an uneasy environment for himself, Menendez can make quite a statement of intent.
It’s not like winning the CFL title is the only goal for Menendez next season. However, it’s a stepping stone for a greater purpose for sure. By dominating the competition once again, the East Bengal squad will be brimming with confidence. In turn, Menendez’s side can relay the momentum into attaining the winning mentality to take them one step closer to finally breaking their I-League duck next season.