East Bengal must retain Trevor Morgan to reach greater heights in India and Asia
Prior to the 2013 AFC Cup, no Indian club had ever gone unbeaten in the group stage of the competition or topped their group or won a knockout match in the current format of Asia’s Europa League. East Bengal have accomplished all of that in one campaign and remain on course to match Dempo’s feat of reaching the semis in 2008 as they thrashed Myanmar champions Yangon United 5-1 on Wednesday to progress to the quarter-finals.
This remarkable consistency in the AFC Cup hasn’t been achieved overnight as the Kolkata club endured two straight winless campaigns under their current coach Trevor James Morgan. But the Englishman and his players learnt from their past mistakes and did their homework and finally everything clicked on the continental stage this season.
East Bengal may not have won the I-League under Morgan but the former Hull City development coach brought back the glory days at the 93-year-old club and once again has established them as a force in Indian football as they have been one of the most consistent teams in the last three seasons, finishing in the top three of the I-League on each occasion and winning six major trophies.
The newly-found consistency of this famous old club can be put down to continuity in their squad and coaching staff but they are in danger of losing that once again as Morgan is likely to leave at the end of the season, which concludes for East Bengal after two more local league matches.
Former India striker Subhash Bhowmick was the last coach to take East Bengal to the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup besides winning back-to-back domestic league titles and the ASEAN Cup. That squad under Bhowmick was destined for greater heights in the continent as they had a great mix of Indian and foreign talent but the club officials didn’t retain the team for one reason or the other while the coach had to resign following an off-the-field scandal.
In Morgan’s case, the reason for his departure lacks clarity because there is still a year left in his current contract. Publicly, he has talked about home-sickness but there are rumours that the Englishman wants an improved contract while there are some suggestions that not everyone at the club management wants to keep the former Bolton and Bristol City striker for non-footballing reasons.
The club officials and even some fans can highlight Morgan’s failure to win the I-League as one of the reasons for not giving exactly what the English coach wants but they must not forget that in the period between Bhowmick’s departure and Morgan’s arrival, East Bengal endured a relegation battle, suffered heavy losses in the AFC Cup and consistently underachieved in the top flight.
Even Bhowmick’s return in 2009 couldn’t lift the club out of their slumber as they even suffered the embarrassment of conceding five for the first time against their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan.
It was under Morgan that East Bengal embarked on a new and successful era and now have been re-established as a force in the country and continent so the club officials must do everything to maintain and enhance that even if it requires to make the 56-year-old the highest paid coach in Indian football history.
In truth, Kolkata clubs have built a reputation of paying sky-high salaries to players and especially foreigners. Due to the ongoing chit-fund scam in Bengal, the spending might be restricted next season, but in spite of that, Ranti Martins is a primary transfer target irrespective of his asking price. The priority for East Bengal instead should be to negotiate with Morgan and give him an improved long-term deal.
The immense success that Dempo has enjoyed under Armando Colaco is because of the stability at the Goan club for more than a decade and East Bengal should be inspired by that example if they want to dominate Indian football and also do well in continental tournaments.
In an ideal world, East Bengal should keep Morgan not only to lead them to success with the senior team but also to get his inputs for a new youth development program, which is vital for the long-term future of any football club. That is certainly too much to expect from clubs in Kolkata, where professionalism is at a minimal level or else why would a club like East Bengal not have an academy till now?
But even to meet the demands of their huge fanbase of winning trophies and consistently beating the Old Enemy, East Bengal need Trevor Morgan. He might have failed to deliver the I-League but it only looks to be a matter of time before he achieves that because the team has been progressing under the English-born coach and is destined to reach newer heights at home and abroad with a few tweaks in the squad and approach towards each tournament in a season.
The red-and-gold brigade missed out on building an empire under the guidance of Bhowmick and having witnessed the consequences of that, they must not make the same mistake with TJM.Published 16 May 2013, 20:23 IST