After a poor finish in the previous season, a rejuvenated SC East Bengal began their Hero Indian Super League 2021-22 campaign with a 1-1 draw against Jamshedpur FC. The newly built squad of Red and Gold brigade looked impressive and they will aim to reach the levels of former glory days, under the tutelage of Manolo Diaz.
Mohammad Rafique, who is playing a crucial role in the SCEB squad spoke with The Bridge in an exclusive interview after their first match. The defender spoke at length on his take from the first match, the importance of the derby, the newly built squad, and many more.
Reflecting On the result of their first match
After last season's dismal performance, the East Bengal think tank rebuilt their team before the start of the ongoing season. Reflecting on the draw in their season opener, Rafique explained the importance of a good start for this newly built squad. "We have a newly built team. Almost all the Indian and overseas players and the whole coaching staff is new. We have played 4-5 practice matches together. Considering all these, the 1 point in the first match isn't bad," the East Bengal midfielder quipped.
Speaking about the coach, Rafique shared how Manolo's inputs will help the team grow together and take them to the next level. "We will have to improve a lot to play better. We will have to improve our set-pieces, our on and off the ball movements" said Rafique.
He added, "Before a match, he analyses the opponent team and sets up a tactic to counter that. So to beat a team, we will have to follow his instructions on the field and play in the way he wants".
"Like in the last match we played with aerial balls a lot and it was because we had a two-top formation with Chima and Perosevic both playing as strikers," Rafique explained.
On the areas of improvement
Reflecting on the areas of improvement, Rafique doesn't think that there's a particular area to improve rather they will have to improve as a whole unit. "To have a compact unit, we will have to improve in all the departments. It's not like, we can select only one department to leave others. we will have to grow as a team and play as a team. That's how we can improve and bring results," the former Indian international shared.
On their defensive lapse
After a good start in the last match, the East Bengal defense couldn't hold onto their lead. They looked shaky and JFC created a few opportunities where they could have scored and bagged full points home. Regarding this issue, the veteran opined, "These was our first match. We have mostly new boys and we also missed quite a few of our main players like Raju, Adil, Ankit who wren's fit to start." Rafique believes, " in the next matches, whoever plays will have to give their hundred percent and fight for the victory."
On the derby
Kolkata derby, termed as the biggest match of Indian football is not just a simple match for the supporters. It's the bragging rights for them. Rafique who has been a part of many memorable derbies knows exactly what it means and will be up for the challenge. The veteran expressed, "We don't want to lose this particular match at any cost. I know it's a prestigious match for the whole red and gold family, we want to win it for them. We will give our best in order to play well and get the job done."
On his expectations of this season and his journey in ISL
Mohammad Rafique who is known as a big-game player, in the circuit scored the all-important header in the finals of ISL season 1. The East Bengal midfielder recently made his 50th appearance in the ISL. He has been part of many successful teams in this particular competition and wants to be in the playoffs again. "In almost all the years I have played in ISL, My teams have finished in the top 4. So obviously, I want to reach the playoffs with East Bengal too. I try to get myself prepared for better performances and I don't think much about other things except football, " said Rafique.