East Bengal’s trump, its coach from the west

The triumphant East Bengal team.-Pics: RITU RAJ KONWAR

Trevor James Morgan showed why he is a smart coach when he intelligently altered East Bengal’s game-plan in the crucial stages making the best utilisation of the team’s arsenal. The title in the end justified East Bengal’s faith in Morgan for the third season in succession. From Amitabha Das Sharma.

Indian football is experiencing a gradual efflorescence of lateral thinking. The clubs so long attuned to frequent modifications and change are settling down to concepts like stability and continuity when it comes to the crucial part of seasonal team formation. Be it the influence of the foreign coaches managing some of the top-tier clubs or the growing consciousness among professional coaches of the country, the desire to put permanence over transience is quite palpable.

The penchant for permanence has happened by osmosis following the sustained camping of the World (FIFA) and Asian (AFC) bodies, which have been continuously prodding the Indian clubs to espouse a professional approach. The 34th edition of Federation Cup was a signpost of this emerging new ethos.

For the moment Briton Trevor James Morgan, Armando Colaco, Subhas Bhowmick and Moroccan Karim Bencherifa are the ‘visionaries’ of change in Indian football. The four coaches — who respectively manage East Bengal, Dempo SC, Churchill Brothers and Salgaocar SC — have helped foster an attitude, which is fast gaining currency among the clubs.

East Bengal under Morgan lifted the Fed Cup for the eighth time, outclassing Colaco’s Dempo SC, which had gained a label of invincibility riding on an unmatched success chart in NFL/I-League.

Colaco is the shining example of stability by remaining with the team for over a decade, in which time he led Dempo to a record five NFL/I-League titles. The affable coach, who preaches concepts like patience and perseverance, will have to look outward to the European leagues to find the company of long-standing managers in the absence of a peer in the country. Colaco had a new catch-line this time which very few of the coaches dare to speak in the country. “You think Indian football depends on foreigners? I am not against the foreigners, but only those who are good should be given the chance,” Colaco said, reposing faith on his home players like Climax Lawrence, Mahesh Gawli, Clifford Miranda, Joaquim Abranches and Samir Naik among others, who have formed the team’s nucleus over the years.

Though Colaco will have a former EPL player, Rohan Ricketts, and Ghanaian defender Stephen Offei joining the side in the I-League, the coach played the Fed Cup mainly with one foreigner — Koko Sakibo — to give his statement a lot of validity. Dempo, much like East Bengal, remained unbeaten till the final where it stumbled against the Kolkata giant.

Morgan showed why he is a smart coach when he intelligently altered East Bengal’s game-plan in the crucial stages making the best utilisation of the team’s arsenal. The title in the end justified East Bengal’s faith in Morgan for the third season in succession. The former centre-forward with different English clubs, showed different variations of his favourite 4-4-2 system to get the team into a winning ‘shape’ in the tournament.

“Sometimes you have to win ugly. You cannot be brilliant always, and it is the win that matters,” Morgan put forth his philosophy before meeting Dempo in the final. The title clash brought Morgan’s observation to fruition as his boys outplayed the Goa giant in a battle of attrition.

“The boys have showed the understanding which is the result of keeping the core of the team together for the last three seasons,” Morgan said after ensuring the title, which was his seventh as a coach with East Bengal. The Fed Cup itself has come twice in three successive final appearances. With both Morgan and Colaco preferring the 4-4-2 system, the former made fine variations which helped East Bengal outperform its opponents — Churchill Brothers and Dempo — in the semis and final.

East Bengal’s form revolved around the undying efforts of its midfield pivot Mehtab Hossain. It is the Morgan influence that has seen the emergence of Hossain as the most complete midfielder in India.

East Bengal goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal saves a Dempo attempt.-

“Mehtab and (Orji) Penn play different roles giving the midfield enough resilience. But Mehtab is the most hardworking among the Indian midfielders,” Morgan says about the most accomplished performer of the team.

East Bengal also gained from the performances of its two newcomers, Manandeep Singh, who played upfront for the injured Robin Singh, and Lalrindika Ralte. The latter with his speed and a great sense of opportunism made the difference for East Bengal in the last two rounds.

Coming in as the 91st minute substitute in both the semis and the final, Ralte ruled the extra-time, giving East Bengal an added punch which none of the team’s opponents could replicate. Striker Edeh Chidi emerged the top-scorer with five goals justifying the faith of Morgan, who fought with the team administration to secure the Nigerian’s services in the new season.

Karim Bencherifa, who rescued Salgaocar from the mire of mediocrity, winning both the I-League and the Federation Cup just a season ago, could not produce an encore. But the Goa side performed with credit to reach the semifinals and gave enough reason for its coach to be confident about the remainder of the season.

Churchill Brothers, under Subhas Bhowmick, also had an impressive run, but faltered against the clever strategy of Morgan in the semifinals. If the Federation Cup is of any indication, the semifinalists here should dominate the I-League, which is the ultimate test of resilience.

* * * Gross mismanagement

Despite all the talk of development and FIFA’s repeated allusion to India as ‘the sleeping giant’, the sport in the country is yet to come out of its slumber. If the repeated protests from teams like Dempo, Salgaocar, Churchill Brothers and Sporting Clube de Goa had anything to indicate, it was the “inadequate” facilities that took the sheen out of the Fed Cup.

The decision to have the bulk of the tournament in Siliguri was a welcome move for the football aficionados of North Bengal, but having 15 matches at the same venue — Kanchanjungha Stadium — in 10 days did not speak about professional management. This also led to the infringement of the FIFA regulations, which stipulate that the last round of group league matches should be played simultaneously. The organiser also had to shift one of the Group-C league matches to the SSB Ground, on the outskirts of the city, a place that did not have dressing rooms for the teams or rooms for the referees.

Even the venues at Jamshedpur, where Groups A and D were played, came in for severe criticism for the unplayable condition of the pitch. Acceding to the protests the All-India Football Federation was forced to change the fixtures in Jamshedpur to give the complainants an alternate venue. If there is going to be talk about professionalism, the national body should ensure a better infrastructure for the sport to prosper, felt many of the coaches

The Results: Final: East Bengal 3 (Arnab Mondal 60, Manandeep Singh 99, Edeh Chidi 109) bt Dempo SC 2 (Climax Lawrence 50, Mahesh Gawli 113); Semifinals: Dempo SC 2 (Joaquim Abranches 74, Koko Sakibo 85) bt Salgaocar SC 0; East Bengal 1 (Lalrindika Ralte 110) bt Churchill Brothers 0.