IM Vijayan: East Bengal 2020 are no team. Boring. Unacceptable.
Shabbir Ali: East Bengal 2020 have no creativity so far. It is the root cause of trouble.
Subhash Bhowmick: East Bengal 2020 have no planning and proper coaching. It has reduced the team to an aimless lot.
Gautam Roy: East Bengal 2020’s winless streak in four matches is no surprise. It has happened before. Several examples can be cited.
All the four persons quoted above have been associated with the iconic Red and Golden brigade in different capacities over the years. As a footballer. As a coach. As an official. And they are united in their misery, appalled by East Bengal’s performance under Robbie Fowler in the ongoing Indian Super League (ISL).
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While the predicament of the club began with the ISL last month, things actually started building up towards this a few months further back. East Bengal, after their cumbersome parting of ways with previous investors Quess Corp Limited, conducted an almost door-to-door campaign in search of new investors, landing one through dramatic political intervention before finally setting foot in the ‘big league’ of Indian football as SC East Bengal.
The new investors hastily arranged a squad which was flown to the bio bubble in Goa. Foreign recruits, chief coach, assistant coaches, set-piece coaches and physio were flown in from different parts of the world to bolster the side.
Despite the global amalgamation, the results have been disastrous so far. Their opener against traditional rivals ATK Mohun Bagan ended in a 0-2 defeat. The 0-3 demolition at the hands of Mumbai City FC would have hurt the supporters a lot (simply because of how casually they were outclassed on the pitch). But, in the back of their minds they may have expected it. Mumbai are one of the best teams in the league.
But the 0-2 defeat against NorthEast United would have truly hurt; and the goalless draw against Jamshedpur FC -- the side’s first points in the league -- is not exactly a relief. 360 minutes of ISL toil and SC East Bengal haven’t found the target even once. One should remember that this is a side coached by one of the best strikers to ever play for Liverpool.
“Are you surprised? I am not,” Vijayan says. Known for never getting into controversies, the legendary forward adds softly: “I am simply pained. I have spent a considerable part of my career playing in Kolkata. This is the weakest East Bengal squad I have seen in my lifetime. This is no team. Their football is boring. Who will score goals? I find no potential striker there. I don’t know who raised this squad. But he has done a downright bad job. This is unacceptable to me, because I too once donned the East Bengal jersey.”
Who are the linchpins in the East Bengal forwardline? Two seasoned campaigners -- Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh, both looked out of their depth. CK Vineeth has not inspired confidence so far. Fowler has tried Anthony Pilkington up front, and while the 32-year-old from England moves around the pitch a lot more than the others, a goal is yet to arrive. Aaron Amadi-Holloway is there, but the coach said the Welshman wasn’t ready yet. Now East Bengal are planning to rope in a striker from Nigeria.
“Why blame the strikers only,” Shabbir Ali asks. Shabbir was one of India’s most prolific goal getters in the 1980s, who began his highly fruitful journey in Kolkata football with East Bengal after leaving Mumbai. Later, as a coach, he made his mark both at the club and with the national team.
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“The creativity has to come from the midfield, even from defence. If strikers are not getting goals, then the midfielders and wingers will have to take up the job. It is for the coach to decide how he would like to go with it.
“You face such problems in Indian football often, it happened with me also in Salgaocar FC. But I overcame it by making tactical changes. Here, sadly, the coach is busy blaming footballers and former coaches. It would further complicate the problems,” says Shabbir.
Bhowmick, on the other hand, feels the problem can be solved with small technical adjustments.
“Given an opportunity I will put that boy, Jacques Maghoma, as a striker (the 33-year-old Congolese international is technically a midfielder). He has an unpredictable turn. It can catch the defenders on the wrong foot. When goals are not coming, I will take a chance this way.
“Pilkington is not bad. Why not play him on the left, so that he can use his right to the team’s advantage? I am happy that Mohammed Rafique has finally been used for the right purpose. Whenever the opposition switches wings to initiate attacks, Rafique is always there to nip it in the bud,” continues the former East Bengal star and coach.
However, the bottom line is that all three greats felt that the club’s chances are bleak this season. “I will be hugely amused if East Bengal manage to finish in the top five in the current ISL,” said Bhowmick, while both Vijayan and Shabbir echoed similar sentiments.
Football chronicler Gautam Roy, however, felt that the club has endured similar slides in the past under reputed Indian coaches. “In the 2007-08 I-League, East Bengal lost five matches in a row. Next season, playing two tournaments, they lost four back-to-back matches. This is sad, but nothing unprecedented,” said the former East Bengal media manager.
Understandably, all hell has broken loose after East Bengal have managed just one point from four matches and languish at the bottom of the table. The blame game is in full swing with the current club management and the coaching staff the target of vicious attacks.
Yet, in the end, what is getting exposed is the overall failure of East Bengal FC and SC East Bengal’s combined management to look at things in the right perspective.
It began with the kind of haste the club’s officials displayed to earn an ISL berth, as if the century-old great institution will not survive another season if they fail to jump on the bandwagon. Getting the right players and structure to do the job took a back seat, it seems. The results are there for everyone to see, and they present a rather bleak picture. So much so that one can’t even use the old cliche -- work in progress.
Maybe they are a work in progress yet. But for the latter to happen questions need to be asked. The first is whether they have the right people on board to do the job. Start simple. Score a goal, and perhaps get off the mark.
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