I-League 2018-19: Make or break for Alejandro Menendez against Mohun Bagan
The Kolkata derby is one of the defining fixtures in the Indian footballing calendar. The upcoming edition, on Sunday, will be no exception and is being eagerly anticipated by most. However, for East Bengal coach Alejandro Menendez, this is the time to act.
The Spanish coach flew to Bengaluru to attend a meeting with the higher-ups in the Quess hierarchy to discuss the general welfare of the team. The 3-1 win over Gokulam Kerala at home, after three back-to-back losses, has provided him with much-needed breathing space. But a setback against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan on Sunday could increase the clamouring among the supporters for his head.
One has to note that Trevor Morgan, one of the most revered coaches in East Bengal history, had to step down during his second stint after a torrid spell of four matches which included a defeat in the Kolkata Derby. Since Quess has taken over, one can expect that the traditional method of hire and fire will take a backseat, allowing more time for the former Real Madrid Castilla manager to settle down. But the disillusionment that accompanies a derby loss will only widen the fault lines with the supporters that have only just stopped widening after the Gokulam win.
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For now, Menendez's position is not under threat. He is carrying on in his usual vein, shouting instructions in training under the sweet winter sun of Kolkata. But patience has become an increasingly endangered virtue in world football and more so in case of a high profile appointment.
Menendez's opposite number, Sankar Lal Chakraborty has not fared much better either. Both teams sit on nine points from six matches.
Mohun Bagan has neither played scintillating football nor have they found the recipe to grind out wins. Instead, they have had to rely on the individual brilliance of Sony Norde on two occasions, namely against Aizawl FC and Chennai City FC respectively, to escape embarrassment in front of the home support. But the alarm bells are yet to ring at the club tent in Gostho Paul Sarani.
Menendez has reiterated that both he and his players need time to adapt to each other and implement his footballing philosophy.
"In Indian football, there are some things which are similar to European football and there are some differences as well. I think the mentality of the players is different and their way of adapting to our methodology is also different. We also have to adapt to this place. It is a long process and we are working on it," said the coach on one occasion.
His argument remains valid but will he be afforded the luxury of time in a club like East Bengal where even a draw is frowned upon as if it was a defeat?
After the 52-year-old coach was handed the responsibility of East Bengal, he was touted as the 'Chosen One' who would guide them to the promised land and the one who will quench the thirst for the I-League trophy that has been eluding them for the past 15 years.
The Spanish tactician has maintained defiantly that he is not feeling the pressure.
"We need to keep calm and continue working. The real pressure comes when you don't have money to buy food for your family,” he responded defiantly after their loss against Minerva Punjab.
But in a derby, even the veterans and the proven performers have had butterflies in their bellies.
Three points on Sunday will definitely release the pressure, if there is any, and catapult East Bengal to the third place. But the boro match of Kolkata Maidan is never about the mere three points. Its rewards and casualties extend beyond the ambit of standings and title race; where 'pressure' is the only constant.