Phillipe de Ridder. Carlos Alberto Pereira. Subrata Bhattacharya. Manoranjan Bhattacharya. Aloke Mukherjee. Stanley Rosario. Subhas Bhowmick. Trevor James Morgan. Marcos Falopa. Armando Colaco. Eelco Schattorie. Biswajit Bhattacharya.
Since Bhowmick along with captain Sangram Mukherjee lifted the last of their three National Football League titles in 2004 with an East Bengal team that contained the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia, Syed Rahim Nabi, Climax Lawrence and Alvito D’Cunha, all the afore-mentioned men (including Bhowmick himself) have stepped into the Red-and-Golds hot seat to try and win a league title but have failed to do so.
The latest to try his hand at winning the coveted the league trophy and somewhat assuage the pains of these 13 years is none other than the reigning Coach of the Year and I-League winner with Aizawl FC, Khalid Jamil.
After years of instability, in-fighting and near-misses, the ex-Mumbai FC manager could be the man to deliver the holy grail to a fan base that craves for it. Arch-rivals Mohun Bagan’s recent triumph in 2015 has only fuelled this desire even further, almost to the point of desperation.
The 40-year old could well be the man who delivers the trophy for the Lal Holud, a task made simpler by the exit of Bengaluru FC. Doggedness, organisation skills, a low-key profile (difficult after last season’s feats) and a meticulous regard for detail make him ideal for the job.
But Khalid’s task at East Bengal is anything but straightforward. Over the years, as the 12 men mentioned at the start of this piece have found out, the coach’s position at EB has often become untenable due to factors beyond the gaffer’s control.
The stories surrounding the problems that arise from within the club could probably fill a book, but this season’s example is enough to demonstrate the caveats and the risks that come with the job.
At the end of the Calcutta Football League 2016, Morgan had indicated to the club officials that South Korean Do Dong Hyun was surplus to requirements but the club, in a tragicomic sequence of events, had already extended his contract, making termination a costly affair.
With that finally taken care of, East Bengal approached the season without a fourth foreigner and signed Aussie Chris Payne much later. To their relief, Ivan Bukenya, Willis Plaza and Wedson Anselme proved to be three of the best foreigners in the league, helping East Bengal to coast to first place with seven games gone, including a 2-1 win over Bengaluru FC.
One defeat to Aizawl was enough to set the cat among the pigeons and with EB still top of the table after 10 games, club secretary Kalyan Majumdar told a leading Bengali news daily that he “did not expect the club to win anything” and claimed that the team was “poorly organised”. He also questioned the mental make-up of the team, stating that EB’s title challenge crumbled every year when under pressure.
They had the easiest run-in when they were table toppers after 12 games, having defeated Bengaluru FC away 3-1 at the Sree Kanteerava stadium. Three games later, a 2-1 derby defeat to Mohun Bagan meant that they were all but out of the race.
Assistant coach Warren Hackett and goalkeeping coach Abhijit Mondal were fired with Morgan’s own position under scrutiny. Four days later, Morgan resigned as another promising season had descended into utter chaos.
In 2016, Biswajit Bhattacharya had spoken about the poisonous atmosphere inside the club when he had written of “improper leaks” in the Anandabazar Patrika. After Morgan’s first spell, Marcos Falopa had flopped and replacement Armando Colaco did not fare much better with the officials not backing their choice of coach.
Between this season, their handling of the failed ISL bid and escalating fan violence, the communication from within and outside the club leaves a lot to be desired. Their cross-town rivals Bagan have their own problems with professionalism, yet East Bengal’s handling of public affairs has overshadowed everything else.
The fans, the EB Ultras can be the loudest when their team is on the rise but they, or more accurately, the fringe elements of the group have a tendency to be extremely volatile and destructive, more so than the Yellow Brigade, the West Block Blues or the Mariners, with the team on the wane.
This season, EB fans vandalized property after defeats to Chennai City, Churchill Brothers and Bagan. Fans asked for Morgan’s resignation after the derby, damaged Robin Singh’s car and had an altercation with keeper Rehenesh TP.
It’s not just the fans; the players at times too have not set the bar too high for team unity. Mehtab Hossain, the team’s long-serving defensive midfielder, stated before the season, that he would quit if EB did not win the title this year.
During the season, Hossain and Lalrindika Ralte had a fall-out after the Aizawl game due to the Mizo winger waving to his fellow statespeople after the game. Willis Plaza’s commitment was questioned by his team-mates post his red card in the Kolkata derby loss.
East Bengal had possibly, the one of the top two squads on paper this season yet managed to create an atmosphere toxic enough for them to choke on as the business end approached.
It’s evident that the ex-Aizawl coach has his work cut out for him, starting with the defence of the Calcutta Football League, a title they have won in each of the last seven years.
The new boss hasn’t wasted any time, bringing in three of his Aizawl squad members as more may on their way.
Till date, the ex-India international has made sure that a club on a meagre budget stayed up over the course of seven seasons (Mumbai FC) and given players of a slightly higher technical level (Aizawl), he saw them crowned champions.
Yet, his biggest challenge may lie in uniting a fractured club.