I-League 2018-19: Malaysia tour will help us, says East Bengal coach Alejandro Menendez
With a new Spanish coach at their helm, East Bengal will be hoping to win the elusive I-League title this time. This could possibly be their last participation in the tournament, as they have alreadt expressed desire to jump to Indian Super League from the next edition.
East Bengal won the National Football League (NFL) three times but never won a single time when it was rechristened as I-League. They came close quite a few times but failed to achieve the ultimate success.
The red-and-golds left no stone unturned to get their hands on the coveted title. They hired coaches from foreign shores, brought in some talented players, developed infrastructure but nothing could get their dreams to come true.
Last season, East Bengal roped in Khalid Jamil, who was already world famous by then for his heroics. Under him, underdogs Aizawl FC left everyone behind to win the I-League. Along with Jamil, East Bengal poached a few players from their team also, notably Mahmoud Al Amnah. But that move also hadn’t clicked as East Bengal finished in the fourth position.
This time, the scenario is different. After their partnership with Quess, East Bengal started splurging more money for the players. They stunned everyone by signing Costa Rican Johnny Acosta, who came directly to the red and gold brigade after playing in the Russia World Cup 2018 in Russia.
They roped in former Real Madrid Castilla coach Alejandro Menendez and two Spanish players having impressive CVs. Moreover, they did a pre-season camp in Malaysia, a first for an I-League club. Supporters are already hoping for a new dawn.
But in I-League, which had witnessed more upsets than successes, nothing comes so easily.
Upon returning from Malaysia, the team had their first and only practice session on Wednesday morning before flying out to Imphal. It is expected that two new signings Borja Gomez and Enrique Esqueda will start, but Acosta may not be included in the starting line-up.
Mahmoud Al Amnah, as usual, was not with the team. He was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday afternoon and will join the team in Imphal tomorrow. When asked if Amnah have any chance to play, Menendez replied a firm “No” before adding, “Amnah has not recovered well. He will take time to be fit.”
The Spanish coach feels the Malaysia tour was a real confidence booster for the whole team. East Bengal have played some of the top division clubs in Malaysia and have not lost a match.
Menendez said: “The tour was very good. It helped them to get their understanding better. The players are more confident now. I want the local players to improve and the modern training facility at Malaysia helped their cause. The club did a commendable job by providing us the opportunity to train abroad.”
Asked if this will be a new challenge for him in India, Menendez said: “I am starting from the scratch. I don’t want to compare this team with the previous seasons. These are a good bunch. They work hard and try to implicate the same on the match.” Menendez said the first match is always going to be tough and he watched videos of their first two opponents thoroughly.
In an earlier interview, the coach had said East Bengal can play tiki-taka style. When asked if this is going to happen in the first match, Menendez didn’t want to divulge anything. “There are four styles in football to win a match. We can apply anything according to the situation,” Menendez signed off.