East Bengal, arguably the best team in the country at this moment are already enjoying a magnificent start to the new season. Their nine match unbeaten run in AFC Cup proved significant for them, and was enough to take them through to the last four in the tournament. The key to their success is mainly due to keeping the same set team over the years and there were not much changes in their line up this year as well. Now as they wait to begin their I-League campaign, let’s look ahead how their squad looks.
Goalkeepers: Abhijit Mondal, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Abhra Mondal, Jayanta Pal
The last line of defence was the point of concern for the Englishman Trevor Morgan, when a few slip-ups from Gurpreet had cost them some vital points. But his performance under the bar in IFA-Shield semi-final was much appreciated, when he saved shots from the spot of arch-rival’s Odafa and others. He would love to continue the form this year as well. With Abhra returning from his loan period and Abhijit’s age-defying performance the new manager’s plate will be full always and he would need to make some hard choices.
Defenders: Raju Gaikwad, Uga Okpara, Arnab Mondal, Naoba Singh, Gurwinder Singh, Robert Lalthalma, Saumik Dey, Abhishek Das, Safar Sardar
Once again the defence will be lead by Nigerian Uga Okpara. The fans would love to see Arnab Mondal continue his club performance like last few seasons. Raju would be looking to regain his form back and would be a handy choice as a U-23 player in the squad. Saumik, the player of the year for red-and-gold in last season, would be the automatic choice for the Left back position. But too much experiment from Falopa might go hard on him, when he is asked to feature along his captain Mehtab in the central midfield. Naoba, Robert, Gurwinder etc. are with this team for some time now, and their contribution can change the complexion of the game significantly. But it all depends on how Falopa uses his men in the various tournaments.
Midfielders: Mehtab Hossain, Harmanjot Khabra,Reisangmei Vashum, Shylo Tulunga, Ryuji Sueoka, Lalrindika Ralte, Alvito D’Cunha, Dipankar Roy, Subodh Kumar
This is the area where the eyes of the spectators would be following keenly. Though the rest of the squad remained almost the same, but the club let go their one of the best assets Penn Orji. Penn was instrumental in the mid-field since the time he joined the team and his combination with Mehtab which gave some hard time to the other teams in the nation. His pace, perseverance, strength and the vision was one of the biggest reasons behind red-and-gold’s success and his friends and country mates Okpara, Chidi accepted the fact that he would be hugely missed.
But officials made a move to cover up for the loss of Penn by introducing the Japanese midfielder Ryuji Sueoka to the squad. He is yet to gain full match fitness, but if morning shows a day, then it would not be early to say his goal against Semen Padang in AFC showed his class, and he would be a cause of headache to other teams in coming days. The Japanese is not new to Kolkata and Indian football, earlier he had a successful stay with the arch-rivals Mohun Bagan and Salgaocar and Dempo. His style of play is entirely different from that of Penn’s, but his ability to play even as a forward would come in handy in future.
Another loss to the club was Sanju Pradhan, who reportedly had issues with the officials and opted for IMG League. But as we wait for the meeting between the clubs and IMG corporate, he might get a chance to come back to the mainstream football campaign, and would look for a place in his old club.
The rest of the midfield remains same for them. Mehtab, alongside with captaining the squad would also lead the midfield, and it would be his responsibility to create the understanding with Sueoka and others to strengthen the midfield. Then there are players like Khabra, Vashum who are capable of playing in multiple positions and would provide width to the team. Shylo Tulunga, Alvito and Dipankar Roy would search for their glorious past of Asean Cup winning days and must look to give something back to the club. Ralte proved to be the super-sub for the team, and came upwith some stunning goals in the dying moments of some crucial matches.
Forwards: Chidi Edeh, James Moga, Joaquim Abranches, Cavin Lobo, Seminlen Doungel, Baljit Sahni, Nilendra Dewan
Upfront as well there are a lot of options for the club. Chidi had almost single-handedly carried the team for the last season, but this time he would get better support from James Moga, who joined from Pune FC. Moga had an excellent stay in Pune scoring 16 goals in 24 matches. His partnership with Chidi would be interesting to watch. Joaquim Abranches, another promising player from Dempo joined the club this season. He had an injury-prone season last year, and would look to showcase his performance in club colors to regain his national team place. His ability to play in wings would only mean Falopa would have more options in hand. Baljit, Lobo and Seminlen would be the perfect replacement in case of card or injury problems.
The East Bengal team on paper looks great. Their former manager Trevor James Morgan left a balanced and a set team, and it will be the duty of the new manager Marcos Falopa to nurture this team well and to carry on the legacy. Falopa has a huge experience of training different teams all over the globe, that includes teams like Palmeiras, Santos FC, Brazil and South African national teams. He had been an assistant manager and technical director to these teams, who performed well under his guidance. He can a perfect successor to Trevor Morgan to manage this team. He would have a lot options and his success would depend on how he manages and opts the final eleven in various matches. East Bengal would have a lot of matches and would travel a lot, provided they go further in the AFC Cup. As a lot of football is coming up for them(AFC, I-League, CFL, Fed Cup, IFA Shield) the biggest challenge would be to keep the team fit and to rotate the team according to the need of different competitions. Their performance in the AFC Cup is already a talk of the town, and even if they stop at the semis, they would square things with Dempo, when they reached the semis of the competition in 2008.
East Bengal has won almost all the national and regional titles under Morgan’s regime but the I-League has remained the holy grail for the red-and-gold brigade. For the last three years they came so near and yet so far to finish as champions. In the last few rounds they wasted some crucial points which made them suffer. Once again they would look to win the biggest title of the country, and if Falopa’s men can do it, it will be a perfect tribute to the master who build this team with a vision, Trevor Morgan.