14 years have passed and East Bengal fans are still waiting for their fourth national title. Since East Bengal last won a national title in 2003/04 season, we have witnessed six new teams lift the National Football League and the I-League eras.
Dempo won their first-ever NFL title the year after East Bengal’s triumph and then they went to become the most successful team in the history of the league by winning it five times.
In 2013, Bengaluru FC was formed and they went on to win the league twice. Aizawl FC came back from relegation to create a fairytale title triumph while Minerva Punjab have also won this season.
Even East Bengal’s arch-rivals Mohun Bagan have lifted the coveted I-League title in the 2014/15 season.
The Red and Golds came close to winning the title on several occasions in the past eight years. They have finished runners-up thrice, ended up in the third position four times and finished fourth this season. Out of all those eight seasons, this was arguably East Bengal’s best chance to lift the title as they favourites after round 16. They needed two wins in their two matches to finally end the drought. But they messed up yet again and managed to collect just two points from the final two.
It was a roller coaster ride for the Red and Golds this season. They managed to collect just one point in their first two matches, which included a derby defeat. But they came back strongly and remained unbeaten in their next eight matches which included five wins.
But things turned ugly after they suffered their second consecutive derby loss. East Bengal’s form dipped for good and they were slowly drifting away from the title.
A major reason for the club’s failure yet again is primarily because of their overdependence on Mahmoud Al Amna and Katsumi Yusa, who were the only consistent players throughout the season.
The midfield duo was absolute livewire throughout the season on the pitch but never got the support they needed to guide the club to glory.
When East Bengal remained unbeaten for eight matches after the first Kolkata derby loss, it must be noted that Yusa and Amna came up with the lion’s share of goals and also provided assists.
The matches in which these two players underperformed or were not present, East Bengal failed miserably.
This was most evident in the two Kolkata derbies where the duo underperformed. In the second derby, the Syrian went out of action in just the fifth minute due to an injury which completely shook the base of the side. Katsumi had tried his best but failed to create an impact.
The overdependence on these two players ruined East Bengal’s season. For a team to win titles, an all-round effort from the entire squad is required. The team had the best set of Indian players at the beginning season and looked the strongest side on paper, but none of those ‘big names’ could live up to their expectations.
Also, lack of a quality striker was one of the main reasons why East Bengal failed once again. The team recruited Trinidadian striker Willis Plaza once again this season. Along with the club recruited former Chennai City FC striker Charles D’Souza just before the I-League. He had scored just the four-goal for Chennai City in the previous season of the I-League.
The strikers' failure upfront increased the burden on Katsumi and Amna. The midfielders created chances, scored goals for the side and also helped their miserable backline when required but they did not get enough support from the frontline. Katsumi scored five goals while Amna netted thrice. Amna was even injured for a while during the season and Katsumi was left to do all the work himself.
East Bengal need to ensure they have players who rise to the occasion in almost all departments if they are to end the title drought any time shortly.