INDIAN FOOTBALL

Season Review of East Bengal FC

East Bengal FC

Despite their massive spending, the Red & Gold Brigade or East Bengal FC were unable to secure a knockout berth.

Is money the panacea for all ills? Obviously not. This is especially true in football. Consider the disparities between the two Manchester giants. The Red Devils have spent a massive £1.4 billion, whereas City have spent only £803 million. The club has battled with not just player spending, but also manager appointments and fundamental club hierarchy since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. Meanwhile, since Guardiola’s arrival in 2016, Manchester City has grown from strength to strength. They’ve won a whopping 11 awards since then, compared to their neighbours’ meagre record of five. United’s current ascent has been attributed entirely to Dutch head coach Erik Ten Hag’s superb scouting and management, but it hides the major mismanagement that has hampered the development of probably the world’s largest football club.

Similarly, East Bengal has struggled to adjust to life in the Indian Super League since their arrival. While they improved on their one-win season under head coaches Manolo Diaz, Renedy Singh, and MarIo Rivera in 2021-22, the Kolkata-based team could only win five more games. Stephen Constantine was appointed with gusto and given a colossal budget to work with, but the former Indian national team coach could only match Robbie Fowler’s six-win performance in their inaugural ISL season. Emami’s acquisition triggered a big transfer frenzy when they terminated their contracts with Quess and Shree Cement Company. They even revealed 13 local moves and four new foreigners. Finally, a few notable players made an impression and were significant, but overall, this campaign underscored the Kolkata giants’ decline.

Outstanding Performers

Cleiton Silva

Cleiton Silva is now the league’s equal leading scorer.

The acquisition of the Brazilian gave the Red and Gold Brigade fans optimism and enthusiasm ahead of the ISL 222/23 season. He returned their trust in him by scoring 12 goals, tying him for the Golden Boot with Diego Mauricio. The former Bengaluru FC attacker performed well among his colleagues, ranking second in the league with 58 shots. His return, on the other hand, was far less productive, ranking fourth in on-target shots with 25.

Regardless of their team’s ultimate league place, fans will say that Cleiton Silva has single-handedly pulled the Kolkata outfit up, and justifiably so. His talent was on display in every aspect this season, as he scored a variety of goals. Silva has been East Bengal’s star of the season, scoring a top-corner screamer freekick against Bengaluru FC, a header and a penalty against NorthEast United, and a fox-in-the-box finish against Kerala Blasters. Stephen Constantine would appreciate that, especially since he recently signed a one-year deal till 2024.

Naorem Mahesh Singh

Mahesh continued his great form from previous season, forming a deadly striker-midfielder pair with Cleiton. His 27 opportunities and seven assists contributed significantly to the team’s success. Naorem Mahesh Singh was an important member of his team. He was also named November 2022 Emerging Player of the Month.

Constantine used the vivacious Manipuri medio in a box-to-box role, which increased his impact. He assisted the squad in stringing together passes during buildup, averaging 31 passes per game with a passing accuracy of 60.9%. Not only that, but he also played defensive cover, finishing with 68 tackles, 11 interceptions, and 26 blocks. Mahesh made it a point to perform cleanly as well, with only one booking in 19 games.

His two-goal effort against FC Goa also earned him the Dream11 MVP and Player of the Match awards for Matchweek 10. The club should not only keep him, but also guarantee that the squad is constructed around his talents, which he has already demonstrated.

Jerry Lalrinzuala

Despite a few defensive masterclasses, Stephen Constantine’s East Bengal were unable to accumulate many points towards the end of the league rounds. Among the players responsible for these feats, one name stands out: Jerry Lalrinzuala. The left-back utilised a combination of experience and talent to escape out of difficult situations under pressure. Jerry, who had previously played for Chennaiyin FC, did not produce much offensively, with only one assist in the entire season. Yet, his performance as a fullback in a system that relied primarily on wing overloads and penetrating was impressive.

Jerry was tenacious defensively, as the former FC Metz youngster made 27 tackles and ended ahead of all his colleagues. He also broke up a lot of play and showed to be a match for players like Lallianzuala Chhangte and Liston Colaco, with 32 interceptions. Jerry also finished the season ninth in interceptions. He was one of the young talents to keep an eye on among the league’s domestic contingent.

Under-Performer

VP Suhair

When with NorthEast United FC, VP Suhair was known for his precision dribbling, which made it appear as if the ball was stuck to his feet. Nevertheless, he was unable to reproduce his form in his rookie season with East Bengal FC. Although he was never one to score or assist many goals, his football was always visually appealing.

With five goals and five assists this season, he surpassed his debut ISL season total of six. He did, however, produce 12 opportunities, but needing to demonstrate a higher workrate taxed him both psychologically and physically. This resulted in even more clumsy challenges, as he finished first in the dreaded category of most fouls this season, with 36 infractions in only 18 games (almost two per game!). As a result, Suhair received the most yellow cards in the league, with eight to his name. There were considerably poorer players at the team this season, but VP Suhair underperformed more than any other.

Outstanding Results

1. Mumbai CIty 0-1  East Bengal

2. East Bengal 2-1 Bengaluru FC

3.  NorthEast United FC 1-3 East Bengal

Manager’s Evaluation

Stephen Constantine

Stephen Constantine was picked because his previous experience with Indian football was thought to be a solid indicator of his familiarity. Yet, the former Indian national team coach drastically overestimated the level of both players and tactical formations found in ISL teams. His choice to continue with a 4-2-3-1 formation with no backup plan other than long balls harmed him.

Experienced midfielders who can dominate the game, such as Apuia, Jeakson, and McHugh, are required in such a setup. Unfortunately, Constantine had just Mahesh to rely on since Mobashir was too impulsive to be consistent and Alex Lima rarely appeared in key games.

Constantine shown evidence of making squad improvements with the amount of money he invested. The Red and Gold Brigade has shown some well-executed attacking plays while also grinding out games with tenacious defensive. East Bengal may become a force to be reckoned with if the Englishman tinkers with the formation on a regular basis.

Learning Opportunities

When compared to ATK Mohun Bagan should be at the top of the list since each club has its unique set of requirements and growing rate. A precise scouting strategy with long-term commitments is required. Because they are foreign, players like Cleiton Silva can only provide quick remedies. Also, Silva isn’t getting any younger. With their second consecutive ninth-place finish in the league, brand goodwill is certain to suffer, making it more difficult for the club to attract big stars.

As a result, the Red and Gold Brigade is out of time. The only good news is that a reconstruction is underway and that the process has begun. Stephen Constantine and Emami are the appropriate people to supervise this shift. And they will undoubtedly help the club reclaim its previous grandeur. Changes to the transfer plan are also required, since talented young players must be loaned out to teams for additional playing time. They would be able to recall them at the appropriate moment, reducing reliance on the foreign contingent. As a result, they would be able to preserve general team health and lifespan.

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