It has barely been a couple of weeks since the seventh edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) went underway in Goa and we have already had a number of interesting stories developing. Pre-tournament favourites like ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC are starting to get into their gear. At the other end of the table, teams like Odisha FC and Jamshedpur FC are still struggling to find their rhythm. One team which has been the cynosure of most eyes but has flattered to deceive till now is SC East Bengal and there’s enough reason why.
Behind the scenes
First up is the preparation for the season. If you look at the way the club management assembled the squad ahead of the start of the ISL, you’d be left wondering if they had done their homework about the competition and the level of football that it demands. Sure, they have been an I-League side all this while and have had to make a hasty adjustment to new surroundings. But announcing the head coach barely a month before the start of the season and a few of the foreign signings even later than that is something that just doesn’t make any sense from a footballing standpoint.
The decision to play in the ISL was announced at the end of September. Yet, it took the investors and the club management nearly an entire month to get all the players on board before the team could fly out to Goa. In the meantime, clashes with investors regarding sporting rights and arguments on the nomenclature of the club took centre-stage. It’s worth mentioning that almost all the other teams had reached Goa by end-September and had started quarantining by the time rumours of Robbie Fowler joining East Bengal had even reached the media.
Anyone who has watched SC East Bengal play in their two matches, in the derby and tonight against Mumbai City, would know that what the team lacks is pace. They have lots of talented players who can put in a shift but there’s almost no difference-maker in the side per se. Only Jacques Maghoma and Narayan Das seem to be the ones who have the ability of covering space and doing a job in either half of the pitch. Of course, it will take the players time to reach 100% fitness and any criticism till then might be a little too harsh. But one would have to wonder if this squad, even at full tilt, will have the pace that a side like Mumbai City or FC Goa has.
3️⃣ Goals 🔥
3️⃣ Points 🙌
— Mumbai City FC (@MumbaiCityFC) December 1, 2020
Add to that the lack of a quality striker and you can see why the side is lacking goals. Balwant Singh, though experienced, is nowhere close to the level of some of his counterparts in the league while Jeje is yet to feature still after a long injury layoff. The lack of a lethal striker upfront is sure to become a major issue for the club if not addressed in January.
Lack of defensive quality and stability
Although Fowler has brought in two capable names in Daniel Fox and Scott Neville, the other defenders that he has at his disposal have barely caught the eye. Now with Fox getting injured against Mumbai, the Red and Golds gaffer will have to dig deep and find a solution to fix his defence.
Rana Gharami started the first match and didn’t do anything worthwhile. Tonight it was Mohamed Irshad who partnered Fox at centre-back and looked absolutely out of depth against a strong Mumbai City attack. Fowler’s ploy to play Surchandra as the right sided full back also fell flat on its face as he was at fault for the first goal and never really looked confident after that. It’s understandable that Fowler is still looking to find his best eleven but the players just aren’t helping him with their performances and individual errors.
Fans’ focus on everything else but the footballing side of things
While the other teams were starting their pre-season in Goa, East Bengal fans back in Kolkata were still involved in a slugfest with their ATK Mohun Bagan counterparts over which club had better managed to hold on to its ‘identity’. All across social media and the internet, the clamour seemed to be more about one-upping the rival fans instead of asking the club management the hard questions. The result is there for everyone to now see.
Robbie Fowler has been dealt a cruel hand whereby he will be the first to be questioned about the team’s performances. But the fact is, the players simply aren’t ready yet and with games coming thick and fast, it might be too late for the side to come back from this downward spiral. Whether the players are good enough is a question for another day but it is pretty obvious that the politics within the management has yet again resulted in a bit-part squad that is still in an I-League hangover.