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East Bengal: Hits and misses of Alejandro Menendez

14:44 GMT 21/01/2020
Alejandro Menendez Mohun Bagan East Bengal Kolkata DerbyMohun Bagan East Bengal Kolkata Derby
A look back at Alejandro Menendez's bitter-sweet journey with the Red and Golds...

The Alejandro Menendez era at East Bengal came to an end on Tuesday, January 21, as the Spanish manager decided to part ways with the Red and Golds.

The news of the Spanish coach’s resignation came in the wake of the club’s three consecutive defeats in the I-League including a derby defeat against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan on Sunday.

The former Real Madrid Castilla coach lasted for nearly one-and-a half-seasons at the Red and Golds. Let us a take look back at his tenure with the Kolkata giants.

Menendez took charge of East Bengal in September 2018 and had become the most high profile coach ever to manage the club.

With new investors Quess Corp in charge of the affairs, Menendez was given every possible support. The club went to Malaysia for a pre-season before I-League. This was the first time that the club had gone for a pre-season camp outside the country.

The I-League proved to be a topsy-turvy journey for the Spaniard as the team, after a rough start, came back strongly but unfortunately missed out on winning the league by just a point. It was the closest East Bengal had come to winning the I-League trophy in the last 16 years. It should be noted that during Trevor James Morgan’s first stint with the club, the Red and Golds had finished second twice (2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons) but the difference of points with the champions was much higher.

Alejandro Menendez had also guided the team to twin derby wins over arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the I-League and thus when the team returned to Kolkata after their final I-League match in Kozhikode, Alejandro’s men were welcomed like heroes at the airport.

Things drastically changed in the second season though. Unlike the first year when the Spanish boss did not have the luxury of choosing his players, he was given a free hand by Quess Corp in the second. From extending contracts of existing players to the signing of new players, Menendez had complete freedom. The officials and the fans banked on his pedigree and trusted his wisdom.

The ongoing season is no ordinary season for the club as the giants of Indian football are set to complete 100 years. Thus much was expected from the Red and Golds in terms of player recruitment, with the fans expecting a memorable season.

Unfortunately, the season went awry. From not retaining their best players to recruiting below-par foreign and Indian players, the campaign has been disappointing.

The team had competed in two tournaments during the pre-season. They were knocked out from the semifinals of the prestigious Durand Cup and had finished third in the Calcutta Football League (CFL). In the I-League, the Red and Golds are currently struggling in the seventh position with eight points in seven matches.

In a post-mortem of this season's debacle, coach Alejandro Menendez’s failures cannot be overlooked. While it is believed that the investors did not spend enough money and that certain recruitments were imposed on the coach, in reality though, it was the Spanish boss who had a final word on each and every signing.

Another huge mistake of the club was to retain Senegalese midfielder Kassim Aidara who despite having an average season last year was given a fresh one-year contract. The team management was not really keen on signing Aidara again but it was the coach who forced them to offer him a fresh contract. Sources close to Goal have confirmed that the club had even considered replacing the Senegalese player with an Indian defensive midfielder from an Indian Super League (ISL) club so that they could hire another overseas striker but the coach did not approve of that move.

It was a strange stance from a manager who had looked eager to help Indian players develop in the previous season.

At any rate, the unforgiving Kolkata maidan has claimed yet another victim at a time when East Bengal's future is uncertain. With arch-rivals Bagan teaming up with ATK to join the ISL, East Bengal management's priority will be to seek a way into the ISL somehow.

But there is still time left in the ongoing season.