I-League 2018-19: Antonio Dovale arrives, but can he fit in Alejandro Menendez’s style?
After his one-year stint with Bengaluru FC, Antonio Dovale is all set to write the second chapter of his life in India, with East Bengal FC. Nine days after the official announcement was made, Dovale arrived in Kolkata on Wednesday.
Dovale, shy by nature, came out of the airport slowly with club CEO Sanjit Sen, putting the trademark smile on his face. Hundreds of supporters were waiting for him impatiently outside. The Spanish footballer was mobbed immediately amid the chorus of ‘Welcome Toni’ and ‘East Bengal, East Bengal’.
Dovale comes as a sixth foreigner into the side and will probably play his first match for East Bengal against Indian Arrows on January 8, 2019.
During his time with Bengaluru, Dovale was at the centre of all attractions along with Edu Garcia and Dimas Delgado. Under the tutelage of Albert Roca, Dovale provided the much-needed solidity on the wings. How can one forget the domination of Bengaluru in every match of Indian Super League, where they finished the group stage eight points clear of their nearest rival?
In later stages, Roca used him as an attacking midfielder and that helped the team immensely. Dovale scored a hat-trick – first for Bengaluru in an Asian competition – against TC Sports Club. He went on to play the same role in Super Cup, which Bengaluru won comprehensively, beating Dovale’s current club East Bengal in the final.
The former Rayo Vallecano player loves to take challenges. Even after a successful season with Bengaluru, where he was getting everything he wanted to, Dovale decided to quit the side and went to Cypriot club Nea Salamis Famagusta FC.
The experience turned sour even before half of the season passed. After warming the bench for first few matches, the relation between him and coach Savvas Poursaitidis turned sour. At this moment, a call from East Bengal convinced him to join the Kolkata giants.
There was one more reason, the reunion with Alejandro Menendez proved as a factor behind his decision. Alejandro, a former coach of Celta B, knew Dovale from his pre-mature years. He wanted to cash in Dovale’s experience with his new club and that’s how things sorted.
“I am really happy to be here again. Playing for Bengaluru was a great experience for me. Now it’s time for me to give my best to East Bengal. This is one of the biggest clubs in India. I am really proud to be associated with this club,” Dovale would say upon his arrival in the city.
“I have played under Menendez before. He introduced me to professional football. He is one of the best coaches I’ve ever seen. I am excited to be reunited with him again and ready to start,” Dovale added.
Now the inevitable question comes, how will Dovale fit in Menendez’s style? “His levels suits into the team. The only concern is, he hasn’t played so much recently. So he needs some minutes in the competitive level to get back his confidence. But he is a very good attacking player. Now he needs practice. After that we can say more about him,” Menendez said after the Derby.
Roca rotated the player in both wings and used him as a central attacking midfielder as well. In East Bengal, he is going to play the same role. Menendez can deploy him on the wings or can put in a more attacking role alongside Jobby Justin to get more goals. East Bengal already have a solid winger in Jaime Santos and the addition of Dovale will only increase the attacking mentality of the side.
“East Bengal need someone who can control and dictate the midfield. Dovale has the ability. So, that would be a great advantage for our team. We hope he gets match fitness quickly, because we need the I-League this time,” quipped one supporter who came to the airport to catch a glimpse of the Spanish footballer.
Mexican striker Enrique Esqueda returned to Spain to treat his broken rib. He will come midway in January. So, the attacking options will be increased. Santos had already shown what he can offer to this side with his impressive display in Kolkata Derby. If he combines well with Dovale, it would be dangerous for the opponents.
East Bengal already have some of the top talents of the country like Jobby Justin, Laldanmawia Ralte, Lalram Chullova and of course veteran Lalrindika Ralte. The defence is also guarded by Spanish-Costa Rican combination.
With this kind of squad, East Bengal surely have the firepower to get their hands on the elusive I-League title. They just need to be more consistent.