The arrival of the Liverpool legend, Robbie Fowler, was all about happiness, praises, and restoration for the SC East Bengal fans as the club fought their way through thick and thin to find a spot in the seventh edition of the Indian Super League alongside their century-long rival Mohun Bagan who merged with the three-time champions ATK in the said championship, inciting an undying controversy.
Albeit, SC East Bengal got some good players to sign for them their debut season in the ISL hasn’t been something they can be proud of. The team wasn’t able to reciprocate the talent of the players that they had in their roster and now halfway through the season, they still do not look in the best of their shapes even though they had a small unbeaten run which didn’t last much in the second round of the ISL 2020-21.
From the beginning of the season, Robbie Fowler’s tactics have not been up to the mark with the SC East Bengal side. Since then, amongst the audience, Robbie Fowler has been well known for highly criticising his own players and the referees of the league. He has been nothing but berserk about all the unfortunate happenings for his team throughout this season. Following this, Robbie Fowler started criticising his own player. His statement went like, “I just think we are a team that is built for the I-League. The recruitment process for this team was for the I-League and then we catapulted to the ISL. Now it’s up to the players to show that they are good enough for the ISL.
“The players are not letting me down; they are letting themselves down and the fantastic fans of this club down. The performance of some players is not good enough, it’s not ISL standard.
“We’re trying hard but we’re just not good enough, it’s as simple as that.
“We train well but some players do not do as well when we play matches. I don’t really know what else to do. We give them everything and we are here for them. But performance-wise in game, they haven’t been good enough. Ultimately the recruitment hasn’t been kind to us.”
Following this, the league saw a massive exodus of players from the SC East Bengal side, viz., CK Vineeth, Balwant Singh, Gurtej Singh, Rafique Ali Sardar, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Samad Ali Mallick, Abhishek Ambekar, Mohamed Irshad, and Anil Chavan.
After this, very recently Robbie Fowler spoke against the refereeing in the league and the statement went like, “As soon as our players go anywhere near the opposition, we’re shown a yellow card. It doesn’t happen with the other team. Maybe I should be telling my players to be going down and milking it a bit more or to make loud noises because that’s what seems to be what makes the referee take the decisions, by whoever is making the loudest noise.
“If the players don’t feel like the officials are protecting them during the match then I don’t think any good players will head into this league and that’s what referees are for. So, I tell my players to go out there and play to win the match and that we are never going to get any help from the officials.”
SC East Bengal managed to hold onto a brief unbeaten streak in the second round of the Indian Super League, but it didn’t last.
Recently, Abhishek Ambekar went on a live hosted by 420 Grams on YouTube and had his say on the current SC East Bengal contingent. He said, “The boys were doing their best but the maximum they could grab was a draw, the boys were doing all that they can. And in between nine players were released, I was one among them. But I feel the coach could have given more time to those boys to settle in and maybe could’ve tried changing his strategy. In the formation that he was playing the players with, the full-backs were playing as wing-backs and it was not working out for us, we were losing consecutive matches. And in-spite of releasing those nine players, maybe shifting to a simple 4-4-2 system and playing with the same players would have worked out for the team. But he chose to do something else and he blamed the players, which everyone saw. I don’t think that was the right thing to be done.”
On this note, when Abhishek Ambekar was asked about the kind of atmosphere that was going, he said,
“See, I have now had the experience of playing in both I-League and the ISL. But according to me, there’s no heaven and hell difference between both these leagues. Because under Alejandro, during the last season, we played a lot of pre-season matches with the ISL teams, with all their foreigners, and we won most of them and one match was drawn. So, I don’t think there’s much difference.
“The way we started off the season was also good but once we started losing, we happened to have a lot less communication. I don’t remember the last time I spoke with Robbie Sir; I have only spoken with him once and that too when I was leaving. That was the only time I spoke with him face-to-face. So, there was a lack of communication and the meetings were very brief.
“I had prepared myself well during the lockdown and I was happy to have the realisation that I’ll be back on the pitch soon and will learn a lot under Robbie Sir. But as the pre-season got over and the season progressed, I was doing very well for sure, but I guess Sir (Robbie Fowler) had some different expectations or something and I had some different ideas. I tried to prove myself and gave it all in training but it didn’t suffice. I mean, the First XI was on one side, training, and the rest were on the other side.
“There was a friendly match among ourselves, the Playing XI and the others, and obviously everyone would have been looking to prove themselves but in that match, Aaron Amadi-Holloway got injured due to my tackle, and afterward things started changing slowly. From then I used to train on one side with Eugene, Jeje, Bikas, and these guys used to train on the other side. All of that was uncanny and it didn’t feel good. It was never like that under any other coach.
“I feel, when a player gets injured the team should nurse them and let them have their fair share of chances to see if they’re fit to fare well till the end of the season. But when I got injured, my physio told me that I will be alright in ten days or something but the foreign physio in the team told me it was much more serious and it’ll take more time to heal. Then I told him that I have taken advice from other physios as well and after that, in a couple of days Robbie Sir called me, then Eugene bhai, then CK (Vineeth) bhai and everyone, and everyone had the same news. It was very shocking because we were doing really well and the coach had a list of players who were scoring in set-plays and so on and albeit we scored, our names weren’t seen up there. But I got a few chances in the second half and I tried to do all that I could in my capabilities, but I guess the coach was expecting something different.”
Following this, when Abhishek Ambekar was asked about the chat that he had with Robbie Fowler on his last day, he told,
“When I was called, I went in with a mindset thinking that the coach would be wanting to say something about the future matches, but he had different news. The way he speaks and he spoke (fastly), he didn’t let me speak anything at all. He said this is a very fast-paced league and that he wants me to go on loan, if I can, to some other team. Then I interrupted him and told him that it was unfair on me and that I deserve at least one start and I’d prove myself if given a proper chance. In whichever game I received a chance, we were already down on one or two goals and I didn’t have much to do being a defender in order to lift the team to a victory. The least I could do was defend. So, as I said, I didn’t get a proper chance to tell something and I also felt like I didn’t have anything much to say to him as well. So, I just thanked him and I left, that was it.
“None of us knew or know yet who made this decision, who all had their say in this. We were just told that we were going to be released and we had to be okay with it. And the next morning we received our flight tickets from the manager, and no one was even able to make any eye-to-eye contact with each other. This is the first time I’m seeing something like this. It was all very uncanny.”
On how the pre-season atmosphere in the dressing room was and how it all changed as the season progressed, Abhishek Ambekar said,
“Even though the pre-season was short, our preparations were going well. We beat Kerala Blasters during our pre-season and all the coaching staff became pretty enthusiastic about us reaching the top 5 positions. But then after the first loss, I guess we were not able to get out of it. We thought there may be some changes made to the squad since we lost the first game, but the next couple of games were also played with the same squad. I guess if there had been some changes then it would have been different.”
Abhishek Ambekar also mentioned that the communication in the pre-season was also very less and that apart from correcting the players’ mistake the coach didn’t speak much to anyone about anything.
“I’m in no position to make any comments on the coaching style of Robbie Fowler, I have zero coaching experience and he is where he is after achieving a lot in his life. But when I’ve played under other coaches, I’ve seen them making some changes like these and those changes helping the team in getting better. I always look up to those coaches and I feel Robbie Fowler could also have brought about these changes. Because being stubborn on something that is not working and later on putting the players down may not have been the right way of doing it.”
With this, Abhishek Ambekar signed off.
Following this, Jaydeep Basu said that whoever recruited the players for East Bengal in the first place are the ones who should be thrown out first, and emphasized that as East Bengal to ISL happened all of a sudden, the club officials weren’t sure as to whom to give the rights to choose the players for this season and that it was all a pig in a poke.
He also made a strong statement that the recruitment that happened in East Bengal, both before and after joining ISL, was a scam. He said if he were to talk more about this then he’d have to take names, which he wasn’t ready to do. This was followed by another statement that it is unsure if SC East Bengal will continue to play in the ISL in the following seasons as East Bengal hasn’t paid Shree Cement the lump-sum share that they’re supposed to, and that East Bengal can be taken to the court if Shree Cement chooses to.
After all that has been revealed, this leaves us with food for thought. Are the club environment and club regulations suppressing for the players, and is it affecting the team’s performance and reputation?