It has been 14 seasons since the last won the national title. Back then it was named the National Football League (NFL). It was rechristened as the I-League in the 2007/08 season. Technically, the club has never won the coveted I-League trophy.
With a lot of expectations, Aizawl FC’s I-League winning coach Khalid Jamil was roped in by East Bengal this season. The Mumbai-based coach who guided the North Eastern side to glory with a shoe-string budget last season was expected to repeat his magic and bring home the elusive I-League title.
Khalid started off well, winning the Calcutta Football League (CFL) for a record 39th time. The expectations of fans understandably soared ahead of the I-League.
However, it wasn't smooth sailing as Jamil got a reality check within the first two matches of the season. The honeymoon officially came to an end when East Bengal suffered a derby defeat on December 2, 2017. The team had just one point after the first two matches and things were not looking bright.
Even then, East Bengal had the title within grasps on at least three occasions but their faltering form let them down.
In the past few seasons, East Bengal have performed well in the first half of the season and completely dominated proceedings but faltered in the final few matches. The situation was slightly different this year as they remained in the title race till the very last day.
Inconsistency has been one of the major reasons why East Bengal failed under Khalid Jamil. The coach could never chalk out his best XI until the very last day of the league. He made as many as six changes in the starting lineup against NEROCA FC on the final day of the season.
Barring a few players like Eduardo Ferreira, Katsumi Yusa and Mahmoud Al Amna, none of the players could stake an automatic claim in the East Bengal starting XI.
Three U-22 players featured in the I-League this season, Prakash Sarkar, Mehtab Singh and Yami Longvah. Initially, Sarkar and Singh were Khalid’s preferred U-22 players but none of them could cement their place.
In a crucial match against Minerva Punjab on January 30th, Jamil fielded Yami Longvah, a player who did not even feature in the CFL.
As many as eight players played in the East Bengal backline this season. Eduardo was the only player who played in the majority of the matches. Jamil failed to organise his defence and it isn't surprising that they conceded 19 goals, most among the top four sides.
Jamil could not even settle on a first-choice goalkeeper with three goalkeepers being fielded through the season by Jamil - Luis Barreto, Mirshad K and Ubaid CK. Barreto and Mirshad played in the initial stage of the league but when they failed to deliver Ubaid was brought in. Barreto has played eight games, Mirshad in three and Ubaid made seven appearances, showing the lack of trust Jamil had in his custodians.
None of the goalkeepers looked convincing under the woodwork. It was a mystery why after consistently underperforming for the last few seasons, Luis Barreto still made it to the squad this season.
The former Mumbai FC manager must take the blame on himself for the lack of consistency which came from his inability to find a settled starting XI.