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Carles Cuadrat: Coaching East Bengal will be the biggest challenge of my career

Former BFC coach Carles Cuadrat has an uphill task as he begins his stint with East Bengal at a time when the legacy club has been trophy-less for ten years.

Carles Cuadrat: Coaching East Bengal will be the biggest challenge of my career

Carles Cuadrat poses for a photograph at the end of the press conference at the Kolkata Centre for Creativity in Kolkata on August 5, 2023. (Special Arrangement) 


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 6 Aug 2023 3:44 AM GMT

Kolkata: Carles Cuadrat is back in India after a gap of two years, and the Bengaluru FC fame coach deems his latest assignment with East Bengal the biggest challenge of his career.

"Managing the club (East Bengal) will be the biggest challenge of my coaching career. At Bengaluru (FC), my former club, I had some good national team players in Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Here at East Bengal, I have to start from zero. We have challenges to be honest. I have to address them," stressed the coach at his introductory press conference at Kolkata Centre for Creativity in Kolkata on Saturday.

But Cuadrat observed that the 'best team on paper is not always the best team on the field'. For instance, "In the 2016-17 I-League, we had fantastic national team players like Sunil Chhetri, Amrinder Singh, Jhingan, Harmanjot Khabra and Mandar Rao Desai. Still, we finished fourth in the league behind Aizawl FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal."

In a couple of years, taking over from his predecessor Albert Roca, Cuadrat, however, had successfully moulded Bengaluru FC into India's most balanced side in its journey to winning the ISL title in 2018-19. To put it into perspective, his team was unbeaten for 11 consecutive matches, and its defence put up an impeccable wall at the back. As a result, the club went 385 minutes without conceding a goal.

But at East Bengal, Cuadrat will have an uphill task in hand as he begins his stint with the Kolkata club at a time when it has been trophy-less for ten years now.

Moreover, the Red and Gold brigade begins its Durand Cup campaign on Sunday against the backdrop of two drawn games in the Calcutta Football League.

Eyes on finding versatile players

The 54-year-old coach, who appeared in a black suit with East Bengal's logo - the iconic flaming torch - embossed on his blazer, said, "It takes time... If you see my stint with Bengaluru (FC), I was with them as an assistant coach first and then took over from Albert Roca and made them ISL champions and won other Indian domestic trophies."

"I have already shared videos and tutorials with the (EB) players. I have to know my players and understand them first. I need to find players for midfield and every other department. I am looking for players who are willing to play in different positions. Durand Cup will give me a sneak peek into the strength of the team. We want to build a competitive team, and I am optimistic that Saul Crespo, Jordan (Elsey) and Jose (Pardo) will play significant roles along with their teammates," Cuadrat asserted as he addressed the questions from the media.

Cuadrat has demanded time to build a solid team, but there is no need of reminding him of East Bengal's impatience with its previous managers. Cuadrat, in fact, is the third coach to come on board in as many years. Since the Red and Gold unit joined the ISL in 2020, two English coaches - Robbie Fowler and Stephen Constantine - were shown the door after the club performed woefully in the previous two seasons.

East Bengals newly appointed coach Carles Cuadrat addressing the media on the eve of the clubs Durand Cup match against Bangladesh Army at a news conference on Saturday in Kolkata. (Special Arrangement)

East Bengal, which has won the Durand Cup 16 times and holds the incredible record for winning the most number of titles jointly with archrival Mohun Bagan, has been on a downward curve in recent years, with the club slipping down the pecking order of Indian football as administrative issues have lingered on behind the scenes. Making it worse, it finished at rock bottom of the points table in ISL 2021-22 and second from behind last season.

'Keep suporting us': Cuadrat to fans

Cuadrat has taken up the job at a critical juncture, with the club's millions of fans hoping for a revival of their damaged pride. The coach, however, is not willing to see this as a pressure.

"The morning I landed here, it was the best morning I have ever had. Hundreds of fans came to receive me at the break of the dawn. I request them continue to support us and encourage the team in order to make an impact in Indian football," he said.

'Focus on building a competitive team'

The Spanish coach, who is back to India after playing second fiddle at Danish club Midtjylland, called for an overhaul in the team.

"It is a new project, so we should make a fresh start. From last season, maybe one or two players could play. There should be changes in every aspect of the game, because the club has not won a trophy for a long time," Cuadrat insisted.

Asked if his priority will be winning a trophy or rearranging a messy home, the prudent Cuadrat said, "We know that any football team needs to trust a process. We are trying to build a new team."

Cuadrat, however, refused to reveal his starting XI ahead of East Bengal's opening game against Bangladesh Army in the Durand Cup. "Coaches do not reveal their playing XI," he quipped.

'Have to be realistic about Kolkata derby'

On the question of his preparations for the highly anticipated derby against Mohun Bagan on August 12, Cuadrat sounded wary. "Yes, there is a lot of emotion around the derby all over the world. I have seen the Catalan derby between Barcelona and Espanyol. But for us coaches, it is just another match. I will make plans for it only after the first match."

"Being part of Indian football before, I am well aware of the sentiment around the Kolkata derby. But I have to be realistic. Mohun Bagan is the champion of India. They won ISL, and we have a new team to build on. They have an established team and a familiar coach, and we have to start from the scratch," Cuadrat signed off.

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