Kolkata: Century-old club, millions of passionate supporters coupled with good sports Infrastructure and glorious history to back. Nothing came to the rescue of a dilapidated house of SC East Bengal in terms of winning trophies in the last two years.
Not a single I-league in 14 years, and as far as Indian Super League (ISL) is concerned, the less said the better. A wooden spoon is what East Bengal achieved this year (last year they finished one better). The worst sufferers are the millions of supporters of the red-and-gold brigade. The fans had to naturally mellow down in front of the onslaught of arch-rivals Mohun Bagan fans on social media platforms.
The only consolation for the East Bengal supporters is they are not facing the ignominy of being relegated to the lower division as there is no relegation rule in the ISL. Otherwise, the trauma of getting relegated could have come back to haunt the club after 94 years.
In 1928, the red-and-golds were relegated to Calcutta Football League’s second division as they could only muster 9 points from 18 outings.
Those who are drawing parallels between the two eras are simply living in fools’ paradise. That was a time when the club was only eight years old, were just trying to find feet following an attack from every nook and corner of the Indian football administration.
But almost a century down the line, Shree Cement East Bengal are now a premier club of Indian football, with a fantastic track record to exhibit. Still, they had to finish with the wooden spoon in ISL 2021-22.
This year, East Bengal have played 20 matches. They won only one, got defeated in 11 and the rest 8 were drawn fixtures. They collected a total of 11 points. A sorry state of affairs indeed!
Now with investor Shree Cement Limited showing signs of deserting the club, the financers attributed the below-par performance of the team to sabotage from some quarters, as per media reports.
Undoubtedly, Shree Cement Limited has quite a big business in India, which is growing in leaps and bounds. But the MR Bangur and family that runs the business with utmost sincerity perhaps failed to pick the right men to run the East Bengal club’s football affairs.
This reminds one of one English proverb, “It is easy to shoot a still picture but it is quite difficult to make it moving”. The investors showed abject failure in running the football team from the inception.
It was on August 25, 2021, when Shree Cement Limited eventually agreed to invest in East Bengal for the 2021-22 season, it was too late. By then, it was quite difficult for the club to build a formidable side as most of the star footballers were already absorbed by other clubs in pursuit of the title. Following a debacle in the first. East Bengal management also failed to pick up the pieces in the second window of players’ transfer that kicked off on January 1, 2022.
East Bengal released highest-paid Amir Derisevic, Daniel Cheema Chukwu, Tomislav Marcela and roped in Fran Sota, Ananta Tamang, Marcelo Ribero. Despite having no hindrance to recruiting players of calibre, the management faltered on multiple counts.
Anant Tamang got only one match in which his faulty defending brought the downfall of East Bengal against Bengaluru FC. Marcelo missed goals in galore. Fran Sota showed why no other ISL clubs were interested in him.
Other Indian recruits were Naocha Singh and Rahul Paswan, who did not get enough time on-field to prove their worth.
Prior to January 1, 2022, East Bengal had played 8 matches and could log only four points. Left with another 12 matches, they could have made a turnaround had Shree Cement authorities prepared their cards. They could have garnered at least 20 to 22 points overall and could have been placed at sixth or seventh places on the ISL table.
Now talking of sabotage or ‘own goal’ from some quarters sounds like an escape route without evidence. But one thing is clear those who were running the club on behalf of the Bangur Group were to be directly blamed.
As far as the selection of coaches were concerned, there were three coaches to guide the team. Have they delivered? The answer is ‘no’. The decision to pick Mario Rivera as a coach after the departure of Rennedy Singh made little sense. The way they selected even hotels for staying in a bio-bubble environment and the selection of physios are the topics for some other day.
However, the history is interesting to mull on. In 1928, when East Bengal were on the brink of relegation, they took on Eastern Railway in their last match of the League in a must-win situation. Eastern Railway were two points ahead of East Bengal and If Eastern Railway lost, East Bengal were to survive in the first division by defeating the Railway outfit again in the play-off which was to be staged later.
The match against Eastern Railway started on a promising note, but luck wasn’t on their side. East Bengal went down to Eastern Railway 2-1, with the winner being an own-goal by Prajapati from the red-and-gold brigade.
The situation may not be the same in ISL 2021-22, but it’s an own goal that let them down again. East Bengal now have to bear the humiliation of finishing with the wooden spoon by their “own goal”. The only difference is the own goal was scored inside the playing arena in 1928, whereas the same “own goal” was scored off the field in 2022.