After one of the most turbulent periods in the history of the 101-year old club, SC East Bengal have managed to construct their squad from scratch for the 8th iteration of the Indian Super League.
In their first year in the country’s premier footballing competition, the Kolkata-based club finished 9th in the table, 14 points off the top 4 spots. Coach Robbie Fowler, along with all foreigners and most Indians in the squad were released, and the club committee clashed with the investors over various ownership issues.
Former Real Madrid Castilla’s Coach Manolo Diaz has taken up the reins of the Red and Gold brigade, setting up a mouthwatering Spanish encounter with arch-rivals ATK Mohun Bagan’s Head Coach Antonio Lopez Habas in the Kolkata Derby, the greatest derby in Asian Football and one of the biggest in the world.
With a few days left for the transfer window to end, the investors and the club committee reconciled and began their quest to form a competitive squad for the league. Many gifted Indians were signed and many brought on loan from fellow ISL outfits.
Assessment of SC East Bengal’s transfer window
The Red and Gold brigade failed to get their hands on some top signings to make them title contenders as they joined the party late in the transfer window. However, with time running out, they picked up some proven ISL names like Arindam Bhattacharya, Adil Khan, Jackichand Singh, and Raju Gaikwad. Talented youngsters like Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Siddhant Shirodkar were also roped in.
The new foreign contingent appears decent on paper as do their profiles. Amir Dervišević looks like the pick of the lot – a big presence in midfield, his height, vision, and set pieces will make him a crucial asset for East Bengal. The Nigerian signing, Daniel Chima, has scored goals wherever he has played.
Surprisingly, after signing some exciting players like Romeo Fernandes, Subha Ghosh, and Songpu Singsit, they were left out of the ISL squad along with 5 other players. This move may hurt the team midway into the season as they lack depth in a few departments.
Transfer window rating – 6/10
Arindam Bhattacharya won the golden glove last year for arch-rivals ATK Mohun Bagan, keeping the highest number of clean sheets in the competition. The 31-year-old left the Mariners after they signed Amrinder Singh, who was favored by Antonio Habas in the AFC Cup games. This prompted the keeper to join SC East Bengal where he will become the automatic first-choice for Manolo Diaz.
Sankar Roy was a crucial part of Mohun Bagan’s victorious 2019-20 I-League campaign and will be a great option to have as a 2nd choice shot-stopper. Suvam Sen, who has been given some minutes in a few friendlies by Diaz, rounds up the goalkeeping department which looks solid on paper.
SC East Bengal have a staggering 7 central defenders out of their registered 9. Whilst this shows the depth that they have in the heart of their defense, it also points out the lack of enough options to operate as fullbacks.
Tomislav Mrcela and Franjo Prce are the two foreign centre-halves, while Raju Gaikwad and Adil Khan are the prominent Indian options. Daniel Gomes, Joyner Lourenco, and youngster Goutam Singh are the other centre-backs. The combination will be crucial because playing an Indian-Foreign partnership will allow them to have an overseas player higher up the pitch.
The fullback department will be a real worry for the coach with Hira Mondal and Ankit Mukherjee as the starting left-back and right-back respectively. Not only are there no other alternatives but Hira lacks enough experience in the ISL and Ankit had a disappointing season last year with the Red and Gold brigade.
If Hira and/or Ankit get injured, big questions will arise regarding the exclusion of the likes of Sarineo Fernandes and Asheer Akhtar who were signed as their reinforcements.
An identical situation presents itself in the midfield contingent – too many holding midfielders and lack of depth on the flanks.
Amir Dervisevic will be the first name on the team sheet after Arindam Bhattacharya, owing to his sheer quality and experience. The 29-year old perfectly fits both the formations which Manolo Diaz has fielded his team in the friendlies – the 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1. Although, in a 4-2-3-1, he will need a more defensive partner alongside him as a holding midfielder.
Dervisevic’s vision and passing ability will identify East Bengal’s speed of play and help them gain control over the midfield and the game. Darren Sidoel is the other foreign central midfielder but he may get limited playing time due to the lack of Indian forwards to partner Chima up top.
To partner Dervisevic/Sidoel, East Bengal have the likes of Sourav Das, Angousana, and Hnamte. A lot of teams and coaches will have their eyes on exciting midfield prospect Amarjit Singh Kiyam, captain of the Indian team which hosted the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2017. However, it remains to be seen how many minutes he is able to accumulate.
In the wide midfield department, the Kolkata-based club has Bikash Jairu, Jackichand Singh, and Mohammed Rafique, who is more of a natural attacking midfielder but can operate as a winger too. While these are decent options and understandable given the restricted time the club got in the transfer window, the removal of the likes of Romeo Fernandes and Songpu Singsit from the ISL squad does not make much sense as they would provide much-needed depth.
Nigerian striker Daniel Chima Chukwu headlines SC East Bengal’s strike force. Parallels are already being drawn between the new Chima and the old Chima Okorie, one of the most prolific goalscorers to have played in India, scoring 131 goals for the Red and Gold brigade in 3 seasons, the second-highest goalscorer in the history of the club after Baichung Bhutia. If Daniel Chima is able to replicate anything close to the ilk of the great Chima, it will pay dividends for his side.
Antonio Perosevic is the other foreign forward, who comes as a breath of fresh air in a side that has most of its foreigners stagnated down the central channel. Although Perosevic is a natural striker, he is equally adept at operating both as a left-winger and a right-winger. His versatility and ability to create chances make him a very interesting prospect in the squad.
Balwant Singh, Semboi Haokip, Naorem Mahesh Singh, and Siddhant Shirodkar are the Indian options to partner Chima or Antonio. Out of the four, Siddhant Shirodkar is the most exciting choice. The developmental player quickly became a star in Goa after his 5 goals in the 2020/21 Goa Pro League for Calangute.
How SC East Bengal can line up
Strengths and weaknesses
East Bengal’s strengths undoubtedly lie in the central areas, from Arindam to Daniel Chima. Amir Dervisevic’s set-pieces will be key for the Red and Gold brigade. Perosevic’s inclusion looks a mere formality owing to his versatility and his chemistry with Chima will be key for the 101-year old club.
No prizes for guessing, their flanks are weak. However, it is extremely unfair to judge players only on paper, and Hira and Ankit, along with Jackichand and Bikash Jairu can prove a lot of people wrong. Hira Mondal, in particular, has impressed in the friendlies, and hopefully the 25-year-old can have a solid first year at the ISL.
Probable finish in the league table
A great preseason can change a lot of things for the squad. SC East Bengal have already played 3 friendlies – against Vasco SC, Salgaocar, and Gokulam Kerala. After completing their quarantine period, they might play a few more friendlies against ISL clubs which will further help identify the starting eleven and other impending situations.
It will not be easy for the Red and Gold brigade to make the playoffs. FC Goa look revitalized after their impressive AFC Champions League and Durand Cup campaigns, ATK Mohun Bagan have held on to their core and so have Mumbai City FC while the other clubs have added new names to their roster. SC East Bengal on the other hand had to face the harsh realities of modern football and lose their entire squad and its manager. A finish in the bottom half of the table looks likely.
However, anyone who follows Indian Football will tell you how you can never count East Bengal out. Just like Balasubramaniam and Moosa fired them into a comeback against arch-rivals, Mohun Bagan, in the 1957 Durand Cup semi-final against all odds, the current players will look to replicate some of the heroics of their predecessors and revitalize East Bengal to its rightful pedestal in Indian Football.
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