SC East Bengal: Is 102 years of legacy getting ruined?

Convos with Pratik Asthana

East Bengal club, founded in 1920, is one of the pioneer clubs in Indian football. There are so many success stories, historic moments centering this legendary Indian football club. Specially, this iconic club’s success against the foreign clubs is a myth in Indian and Subcontinental football.

Many Indian football greats donned the Red and Gold jersey of the mighty East Bengal club at one time in these National and International tournaments. At a certain point of time, even before some two and a half years, this club was at the helm of success in the mainstream of Indian football, when the club became runners in the I-League finishing just a point behind Chennai City FC.

But nowadays, it seems that SC East Bengal is slowly becoming a shadow of the past nowadays. Specially, the performance in the Indian Super League 2021-22, i.e. this season resembles this fact. East Bengal are placed in the last position in the Indian Super League after playing eight matches with four draws and four losses. Number of wins is zero till now.

To discuss what has gone wrong with SC East Bengal in the current edition of Indian Super League so far, we have Football Analyst Diptashis Dasgupta, our own Football analyst in this edition of Convos with Pratik Asthana. Diptashis is a die hard football fan and has following Indian football keenly for close to two decades.

Pratik Asthana: What according to you is the root cause of the below par performance of SC East Bengal?

Diptashis Dasgupta: The most disheartening fact is that in ISL 2021-22 season the club is yet to register even a single win after eight matches and a last position in the most coveted league of India! The decline and slide which the club had never witnessed before in the history of 102 years. Another surprising or I should say disappointing fact is that in this season the club is participating only in the Indian Super League.

The Red and Golds did not take part in any other competition this season, be it the Kolkata Football League, Durand Cup or IFA Shield, which is also a new trend. Previously, this kind of situation never arise that East Bengal is skipping tournaments. In this regard, it is worthwhile to mention that in 2002-03 season under East Bengal won six tournaments in a row, out of which two were National League and a top tier AFC tournament like ASEAN Cup, where East Bengal was the only team from a Non-ASEAN country under the coaching of Subhash Bhowmick. Previously, in 1972 and 1973, East Bengal won all the five tournaments participated in both the years, under the coaching of the legendary P.K. Banerjee. 

Regarding winning abroad, it is also worthwhile to mention that East Bengal has won four International Trophies from abroad apart from winning numerous National level trophies and championships. Not only that, East Bengal is one of the only three Indian clubs to have qualified for the AFC Cup semifinal, the other two being Dempo SC and Bengaluru FC, and that too, remaining unbeaten up to the quarterfinals.

Pratik Asthana: Where actually lies the problem of East Bengal?

Diptashis Dasgupta: Due to the obvious conflict between the club management and the investors, the team has been built very late. In this regard, it is worthwhile to mention that the club officials initially signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Shree Cements, the investors, for playing in the Indian Super League. It was decided, that, for two seasons, as I have heard, not confirmed though, the football team will be prepared on the basis of the MOU, and later on, after the completion of ISL 2021-22, a final termsheet will be signed between the club and Shree Cements, to continue as the investors of East Bengal.

Pratik Asthana: Sorry to interrupt, this seems to be pretty fair enough?

Diptashis Dasgupta: Wait. That’s what I was coming to, due to some unknown reasons, Shree Cements wanted the termsheet to be signed only after the first year with some rigid clauses, which the club didn’t want to sign, obviously because of valid reasons. For that reason, the team building procedure got jeopardized and many players, including successful foreigners like Matti Steinmann and Bright Enobakhare, left the club.

Pratik Asthana: So you mean to say that the team building process got impacted?

Diptashis Dasgupta: Absolutely, regarding the team building process, the investors did not consult the club officials at all. They built the team completely on their own. Besides, the team building procedure started very late. The other teams playing in the Indian Super League by that time, not only completed signing of all the players, but started practice as well. By the time the investors started building the team, there were almost no top standard players in the transfer market, barring a few exceptions. As a result, the team was built with some low standard Indian players along with some young players. The young players are competent no doubt, but they lack the experience and need time and maturity to settle down. The foreigners, who were selected, also are not up to the level.

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Pratik Asthana: Is it that coach Manuel Manolo Diaz did not get sufficient time to prepare a decent team or was he lacking in the skill set aspect too?

Diptashis Dasgupta: It’s not that coach of SC East Bengal, Manuel Manolo Diaz did not get enough time with the team. Rather he failed to groom and nurture the boys despite getting more than two months of time (almost similar amount of time that most of the other coaches for ISL 2021-22).

Sometimes, even if the players are not up to the mark, a coach, by his tactical and management skill, planning, presence of mind and match reading can extract satisfactory results out of his personnel. A good case study is coach Khalid Jamil leading Aizawl FC to success in I-League 2017. But sadly, Manolo lacked all kinds of skill and attributes as a coach and despite having ample time, failed to develop a proper core in the team.

Pratik Asthana: How much of an impact did coach’s public criticism of team and players affected the moral?

Diptashis Dasgupta: I personally believe that at times kick in the butt style is required to get the best out team. But here, his style appeared to backfired at the big time. He appears to have ruined the confidence of the players by making derogatory comments publicly about them.  As a result, the players and support staff lost faith in him. 

Pratik Asthana: Will the problems of SC East Bengal will be solved after sacking of Manolo Diaz?

Diptashis Dasgupta: Of late, Manolo has been sacked by the investors after discontent increased inside the club. Till the arrival of the new coach, Renedy Singh has been made in-charge of the club. But the damage has already been done. I just hope that the new coach, whoever he may be, be able to pull the red and golds out of this dark phase.

Thanks Diptashis for your analysis! Let’s hope that SC East Bengal is able to regain the past glory soon and give performance befitting to the legacy of the Red and Golds.