The 2016-17 domestic football season began brightly for East Bengal and an extended spell atop the I-League table saw hopes of a first domestic league title in thirteen years bloom and spur the team on.
Only, it was not to be as their form dipped in the latter part of the league which was epitomised by a 2-1 reversal in the Kolkata Derby and subsequently coach Trevor Morgan was forced to leave. A third-place finish in the league, however respectable, was never going to satisfy the fanatical fanbase who had their expectations raised sky-high by the team's initial performances.
The same held true in the Federation Cup as well, with East Bengal progressing through to the semifinals only to be denied by their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan, yet again. Even then, there were noteworthy contributions from the likes of Nikhil Poojari, Willis Plaza, Rowllin Borges and Rahul Bheke but they could not deliver the ultimate prize.
As such, Goal runs through the top three performers for the Red and Golds in 2016-17 in descending order...
3. MEHTAB HOSSAIN
The 34-year-old tough-tackling central midfielder has always been one of East Bengal's most reliable players and it has continued to be so this season as well. The veteran still flies into tackles, breaks up play and launches attacks with his trademark indomitable nature shining through.
Mehtab was exceptional for the Red and Golds throughout the 2016 Calcutta Football League which East Bengal won after Mohun Bagan conceded the final. He continued that run of form in the I-League as well, keeping our Rowllin Borges from the first team as Trevor Morgan chose to employ a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond. His tenacity often made the difference for East Bengal, most notably against Bengaluru FC in Kolkata when Mehtab's tussle with Chhetri boiled over and the visitors lost the plot, allowing East Bengal to script a 'come-from-behind' win.
He made 16 appearances in the league alone, before playing his part in the Federation Cup as well. Without doubt, he has been one of East Bengal's better players this season.
2. IVAN BUKENYA
The big burly Ugandan defender was recruited by East Bengal to add some much-needed solidity to their defence as they eyed that elusive league title. The 25-year-old certainly managed to do that and managed to hold the East Bengal defence together despite the loss of Arnab Mondal to injury for most parts of the season.
He announced his arrival with a goal in the very first league game - an injury-time equaliser against Aizawl. Bukenya would go on to play in every single league game for the Red and Golds this season and would be named 'Hero of the Match' in their 2-1 win over Bengaluru where he was at times heroic against the likes of Chhetri and co.
His threat at set-pieces made him a thorn in the sides of opposing defences as well and Bukenya ended up scoring three goals over the season. Though his pace was suspect at times, he made up for it easily with his physical presence and intelligent positioning. The 6'3" defender certainly deserves a place in this list.
1. WEDSON ANSELME
Wedson Anselme has been behind every creative move from East Bengal this season, particularly in the early part of the I-League season. The Haitian was absolutely scintillating as East Bengal racked up 17 goals in the initial 6 games of the league.
The 31-year-old ended up with eight goals and numerous assists in the league as he struck up a lethal combo with Willis Plaza up front. Anselme's impact was felt the most when he was actually sidelined from the team with an injury he picked up during East Bengal's win over Bengaluru in Bengaluru. Trevor Morgan's side floundered in his absence and went on a poor run of results which ultimately cost them the title.
Anselme was also one of three players to score a hat-trick in the I-League this year, in East Bengal's 5-0 win over Minerva Punjab away.
There is no question that Wedson Anselme is East Bengal's Player of the Season!