PRIDE AND HONOUR inspires to give the best in oneself. Careful planning, aims are set it, short term and long term targets are all part of the preparation to meet the ultimate goal.
For East Bengal Football Club, it must have no different when it came to aiming to clinch the prized I-League trophy. The three-time NFL / I-league champions had last won the competition in 2003/04. Before the possible merger, this season was the last I-league season before EB could get the trophy.
Trevor Morgan, under his watch of East Bengal for three years, had won everything except for the I-league that includes Calcutta Football League, the Federation Cup and the IFA Shield. In his second stint with the club, Morgan along with the set-up of the club looked a perfect recipe for a great start of the season and end of equally high note as well.
At the start of season, no person or algorithm could not have predicted the sorry state of affairs the club is in at the moment. The title is out of bounds, Trevor Morgan has resigned, match day attendance has drastically reduced and the fans are talking ill about the players and officials.
Let us walkthrough the season of East Bengal FC, that began very well, stayed up for some time and started an internal slow-motion disintegration to reach where they are today.
FLYER OF A START
East Bengal drew their opening game against Aizawl FC. Little did anyone think that the point won by Aizawl will go a long way to help the club from Mizoram. East Bengal would go on to lose to Aizawl FC in the away leg and also one of the reasons that East Bengal would stay adrift from the top. But that opening drop of points was the only depression in the first half of EB's season.
At the mid-way stage of the I-League season, East Bengal had won six wins and three draws meaning they went unbeaten in the competition, only one of two teams to do so till then. The foreign signings had contributed in 14 of the 18 goals scored have come through three overseas players at the end of nine games.
The Kolkata derby's significance was many folds. Not only was the pride of two of the India's oldest clubs at stake, but was also the race to get their noses ahead for the title. The end result of the first derby was a draw and the I-league trophy very much up for grabs for both Kolkata-based clubs. East Bengal had done everything rightly and were in cruise control. Now being neck-to-neck with Mohun Bagan, all EB needed to continue to keep the goals coming and hope Bagan drop points and the return derby who turn into a possible title race decider or least give the edge past their age old rivals.
THE BOUNCE BACK
Aizawl FC, had ended East Bengal's unbeaten streak with a 1-0 loss. But East Bengal, being team focused on winning the title, back very strongly in the immediate next game. They were up against Bengaluru FC, the defending champions, away from home. It was a test for Morgan and his side. They won the game convincingly 1-3, including a Robin Singh brace. It sent out a strong message to those doubting the team's capacity to take a hit and get back on their feet. East Bengal also won the next game against Shillong Lajong.
Round 13 had the Red and Gold playing Goan team Churchill Brothers. East Bengal has just won two games and were favourites against a struggling side. But the recently appoint coach Derick Pereira had other plans (and plans for the other big teams as well). The tactically-changed team of Churchill Brothers raced to a 2-0 lead at half time and Morgan's players have trouble understanding the game played by the Red Machines. EB lost the game 1-2 in front of their own home crowd.
The recent slump of form after the derby had taken a hit internally on the team and that started showed up after the team lost to Aizawl FC. Post the game, Morgan explained why he dropped Robert who looked certain to feature in the game. It looked like a petty, one-off incident that could be just passed off but the silent process of contaminating the morale of the team and officials had been set off.
Chennai City FC were next up for East Bengal. The home side seemed on the back foot at half time when Plaza gave EB the lead. But some causal play at the back for EB allowed Chennai to score the equaliser and just when Bukenya was sent up to play as a striker, Chennai hit the counter-attack button and scored the winner in the dying minutes. The loss was bitter for EB because both Aizawl FC and Mohun Bagan has dropped point before EB played and it was a chance for them to get back in the hunt for the title.
The internal cracks that had developing were very much visible when the East Bengal club secretary Kalyan Majumdar commented criticising Morgan and his own team,
"I knew this team wasn't going to make it... I hope that despite this lapse in performance the coach is going to Australia for vacation. I hope he has a good time over there."
Morgan was asked about his vacation after the CCFC match. He said,
"I will go to Australia as planned, what happened tonight does not change that."
When asked whether he thought East Bengal still had a chance to win the I-League this season, he said,
"To be lucky, you need to work hard. I don't think we have managed to do that... in crunch times like this you have to depend on more than just talent, this is when the character, the resilience and willpower of the players come to the fore. That hasn't happened much either... in the end we will end up where we deserve to finish."
That was a clear indication that the crumbling process which had begun long back and had showed its devastating effects to the world.
East Bengal entered the return leg of the Kolkata derby and came out losing it 2-1 with Plaza being shown a red card in the game. After the derby loss, Morgan seemed a dejected coach who had giving in the overwhelming burden of taking the team to the longed title. In the post-derby press conference, Morgan did not mince his words and lay bare what was going on in his mind and his assessment of the team performance and its current state.
All the turmoil in the recent flop performances had got to the clubs officials and the fans as well. First up was Morgan, who was called for a meeting by the club officials and asked to explain the drop in performance and reasons of publicly sharing his thoughts on the management. The result of the meeting was pink slips were handed to Morgan's staff.
The pressure had got to the fans and they showed their anger and displeasure at the team's recent practice. Everything had fallen apart and the next home game against DSK Shivajians saw very poor attendance and East Bengal lost its fourth game in a row. Morgan tendered his resignation and Mridul Banerjee was appointed as interim coach.
The East Bengal camp will look up to the interim coach to get club and fans out of their misery and give something to cheer for this season.
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