COMMENT | BY ATANU MITRA Follow @Atanu00 on twitter
Though they haven't won the I-League even once after the nation's premier football tournament got rechristened in 2007, East Bengal hav probably been the most consistent team in Indian football over the last few years. Between 2010 and 2014, they have finished runners-up thrice and made it into the third spot on another occasion. Add to that two Federation Cup triumphs from three finals appearances and an unbeaten run into the AFC Cup semi-final to boot.
The club officials had done well to keep the core of team intact in 2014-15, but the performance graph took a steep dive, as they struggled from the onset. Over the course of the league, East Bengal never posed a serious challenge, as they dropped points on regular intervals.
Reasons such as dressing room unrest and player fatigue post-Indian Super League (ISL) were cited, yet there remained one special parameter which was key to their poor performance.
East Bengal scored 30 goals in the league this year but 26 of them were shared between their two foreign strikers, namely Ranti Martins and Dudu Omagbemi. Ranti topped the charts with 17 goals while his fellow country-man shrugged off his early goal drought to finish as the joint-third highest goal-scorer of the competition. This means the other outfield players of the team netted a paltry four goals in 14675 minutes of football amongst them.
During the Trevor Morgan era and the Marcos Falopa-Armando Colaco age, a salient feature of East Bengal was that their prolific midfield. Lalrindika Ralte was the most seasoned goal scorer amongst them, scoring nine goals in the two campaigns before this season. Cavin Lobo, Harmanjot Singh Khabra and Sanju Pradhan also chipped in with a few while foreigners like Penn Orji and Ryuji Sueoka ranked high on the list of goal scoring medios.
Things changed dramatically this season, as none of the East Bengal midfielders could score more than once and whenever the team was in need of goals, they had no other option but to look up to their star duo upfront. East Bengal managers deployed three different formations this season - Armando stuck to the classical 4-4-2, Eelco Schattorie started with a diamond before shifting to a 4-3-3; but nothing changed the fact that the number of scoring outlets has abruptly depreciated.
|Season||Number of goals scored by strikers||Number of goals scored by players who are not strikers||Number of different scorers other than strikers|
(Note: The calculation considers Baljit Singh Sahni as a midfielder in the 2014-15 season and a striker before that. Alan Gow has been counted as a striker)
Now with Ranti Martins and Bello Rasaq already part of the rosters for the season ahead, the officials of the century-old club have decided to sign Do Dong Hyun, a young winger from South Korea, who had his first stint in Indian football last year representing NorthEast United in the ISL. A quick look at his statistics reveal that the pacey winger has played full 90 minutes in only one match in the last three seasons combined. His scoring chart also doesn’t have any entry over the aforementioned period.
While the need of the hour was to sign a proven goal-scoring playmaker to take the pressure off Ranti and the yet-to-be signed marquee striker, the Red and Golds’ management has played a big gamble in bringing in the 21-year-old as a solution to their goal-scoring problem. In his short stint with the ISL franchise, Hyun was seen playing on either wing as well in the center of the pitch, however he failed to find the back of the net.
Lalrindika Ralte is still fresh from what was undoubtedly the worst season of his career while the talented Cavin Lobo failed to take his game to the next level, courtesy his inconsistency. If Dong is played on the flanks, one of these two will have to be employed as a number 10, a role which was played so elegantly by Penn in his first two and a half years at the club.
East Bengal have provided Indian football with some of the best foreign players, bringing in the likes of Jamshid Nassiri, Majid Baskar and the late Crisitiano Junior over the years. While the jury is still out on Hyun, who had been part of the Under-20 Korean national team, the supporters of the club will hope that the new recruit will be able to net a few important goals – a parameter where Leo Bertos added zero value during his year-long stay. Till then, the signing can be regarded as a risky long shot taken by the administrators of the club.