It was another campaign of deja vu for the Red and Gold as they once again fell short of the title on the final day of the season.
It was a sour case of deja vu for East Bengal, who saw themselves awfully miss out on the I-League title yet again and fail to capture the Super Cup as well. After appointing I-League-winning manager Khalid Jamil, it looked like it was Bengal’s destiny to finally lift the crown. But, they slipped up at the wrong time, allowing Minerva Punjab to clinch their maiden title.
East Bengal failed to show the champions mentality in their display. Despite being given numerous opportunities to seal the title, they kept on faltering which resulted in a disappointing fourth-place finish. While it looked like they might win the inaugural Super Cup after grinding their way into the final, inexperience and lack of tactical solidity cost them the trophy as they were humbled by Bengaluru FC. In the end, it was another season to forget for fans of the club who have been poor victims of this cruel cycle for many years.
Fact Sheet For Indian Season 2017-18
Season Finished: 4th
Games Played: 22
Win %: 50
Jamil got the first real taste of competition while coaching East Bengal in the Calcutta Football League last year. The Red and Gold had another prolific season in their local league, which they actually won undefeated, drawing only two out of the nine games they played. After barely managing to grind out a controversial 2-2 draw against rivals Mohun Bagan in the final game, the club won their record 39th CFL thanks to superior goal difference.
After a successful CFL campaign, Jamil wanted some pre-season friendlies against the top teams of the Indian Super League. East Bengal played two friendly games at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium against Bengaluru FC, drawing one and losing the other. After that, they lost to FC Pune City, but bounced back quickly and recorded an impressive victory away against FC Goa. Jamil’s men rounded off their pre-season campaign with a resounding victory against newly-found Jamshedpur FC and things looked bright for them as they headed into the I-League season with a lot of confidence under their belt.
Flop of the Season
Arnab Mondal: The veteran defender was handed the captain’s armband by new coach Jamil and was expected to be the pillar in East Bengal’s defence, something he failed to be. Arnab was one of the most experienced players in the squad once the season began, but his vulnerability in defence cost his side some vital points throughout the campaign.
Mondal failed to properly establish himself as the “leader” for East Bengal and failed to live up to expectations in the recently concluded I-League season. As such, East Bengal ended up with only five clean-sheets at the end of the season, whereas they should’ve had many more.
Mondal grew impatient while making decisions and didn’t make things easy for newcomer Eduardo Ferreira either. His side was often made to pay for the 28-year-old’s mistakes and missed out on another I-league championship.
Top 3 Performances
1. Minerva Punjab 0-1 East Bengal (Match Report and Highlights)
2. East Bengal 5-1 Shillong Lajong (Match Report and Highlights)
3. East Bengal 7-1 Chennai City FC (Match Report and Highlights)
After their dip in form towards the end of the I-League, not many people had high expectations from East Bengal in the Super Cup. Subhash Bhowmick was brought in as the Technical Director for the club to work alongside Jamil and amidst rumours of them sharing a strained relationship, they initially made East Bengal perform very well in the Super Cup. The Red and Gold defeated ISL sides like Mumbai City and FC Goa before progressing to the final.
East Bengal looked promising in the early stages of the final against Bengaluru. However, a few bad decisions and defensive errors cost them the trophy as the Blues managed to defeat the Kolkata side 4-1.
Manager’s Report Card
There were big expectations from Jamil when East Bengal made him the highest paid manager in Indian football. The Kolkata side brought him to the club hoping that he could help them win the elusive I-League title. Jamil brought with him a few players from Aizawl FC and made some impressive signings, but he failed to notice the defensive vulnerabilities of his side. His overestimation of a few average players cost him points, both in the league.
While his tactics in some ‘big’ matches were commendable, Jamil’s team kept on fluttering throughout the season. This allowed eventual champions Minerva Punjab to gain absolute control of the title race. While the former India international did a reasonably good job through most parts of the season, constant stuttering made East Bengal finish fourth in a four-horse race and inability to win the Super Cup made, what has turned out to be his only season with the club, end in disappointment.
Lessons to be Learned
East Bengal have been entangled in this cycle of slipping up in the I-League title race over the past few years. One thing which they definitely shouldn’t have done is replace Jamil with another head coach, as constant managerial change is unlikely to bring them any success, going by past experience.
They needed to bring in at least one quality goalkeeper (which they have already done in Rakshit Dagar). The Kolkata outfit also needs a clinical striker with poaching abilities next season. Also, East Bengal need to bring in some mentally strong, experienced players who can not only hold their own, but inspire the rest of the squad as well.
The phrase that aptly describes East Bengal’s campaign for is,”so near, yet so far.” Leaving the disappointment of last season behind, we were determined this term with renewed vigour to capture the coveted I-League title. We began the season with a bang by grabbing the CFL crown for an eight consecutive time.
Majority of the players from last season’s squad parted ways with the club and joined glamorous ISL franchises. But still, the management tried to control the damage by signing the likes of Mahmoud Al-Amnah, Katsumi Yusa, Salam Ranjan Singh, Laldanmawia Ralte and so on. We also roped in I-league-winning manager Jamil, forcing expectations to creep up among the fans.
However, a few new recruits were below-par including the likes of Bazie Armand, Charles De Souza. As the league progressed our fears came true with lacklustre performances from these players. Jamil’s defensive strategy was heavily criticized along with the internal conflict with Manoranjan Bhattacharya and we failed to play as a team through the league. Our must-win game in Shillong ended in a draw and history repeated itself, as it has done for the last 14 years. Minerva capitalized on the situation and were crowned as the champions.
But, I do have faith in our club officials and management. Every process takes time and I hope our management starts dealing with things in a more organized and professional way from next season onward, so that we can get back our golden days.