A welcome piece of news emerged from the East Bengal camp on Thursday with confirmation that Kassim Aidara is set to continue his stint with the Red and Golds. It crowns a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the midfielder after being initially deemed surplus to requirements by coach Alejandro Menendez.
The Kolkata giants brought in the Senegalese midfielder after initially failing to negotiate a contract extension with Ugandan midfielder Khalid Aucho, who had played a crucial role in the club’s impressive run in the Super Cup 2018.
Aidara had had an impressive debut season in India with Minerva and was rock solid in the defensive midfield role for the Warriors. While Chencho Gyeltshen and William Opoku led the attack force, it was Aidara who provided the much needed solidity at the middle of the park.
But Aidara's start to life at East Bengal did not get off to a good start. He was scrutinised harshly for a lacklustre show in the Calcutta Football League (CFL). Aidara lacked a bit of pace which exposed the vulnerability of the East Bengal midfield and backline.
After the dreadful CFL campaign, in came Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez Garcia. The Spaniard started rebuilding the team from scratch. East Bengal had travelled to Malaysia for a three-week preparatory camp before the I-League season.
It was in Malaysia where Alejandro trained and analysed the performances of all the players in his squad. The pre-season camp was of huge benefit to the club as the team management got the opportunity to figure the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the squad.
Unable to cope with the rigorous pre-season training, Syrian midfielder Mahmoud Al Amna saw himself ruled out of the team before the I-League owing to back injuries.
Kassim Aidara too did not find himself in starting lineups in first three matches of the season as Menendez did not find him fit enough to get into the first XI.
It was only from the fourth match that the Spanish boss started including the tall, brawny midfielder in the Red and Golds XI. As the season progressed, Aidara improved his game as well as fitness and slowly became indispensable in the East Bengal midfield. He formed a solid central midfield partnership with Lalrindika Ralte which helped the club to perform well consistently in the second half of the season.
The credit goes to Menendez and his assistant and physical trainer Carlos Nodar Paz for Aidara’s mercurial rise in form in the latter part of the year.
The intense training regime helped Aidara improve his overall fitness and muscle power. The midfielder himself had confessed that Nodar had advised him to drink large quantities of water in order to adjust himself with the Spaniard’s rigorous fitness training regime.
Aidara’s impressive show in the I-League last season prompted coach Alejandro Menendez to ask the club management to offer a one-year contract extension to the midfielder. And it has been richly deserved.