Penn Orji - My biggest regret at East Bengal was not winning the I-League
In the I-League era, East Bengal were at their very best between 2010 and 2013 under the tutelage of British coach Trevor James Morgan when they won every single trophy in India bar the I-League.
They bagged eight trophies in those three seasons including two Federation Cup titles and were arguably the most consistent team in the country.
Nigerian midfielder Penn Orji, a key player in Trevor Morgan’s arsenal, spoke to Goal about the time he had spent at the Kolkata club.
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Orji was all praises for the British coach as he said, “Wow Morgan! Even now we keep in touch with each other. He is a great coach, a great man and a great mentor. If JCT was a foundation for me in Indian football, East Bengal was where I blossomed.
“Morgan was tremendous. I learned so much. When I met Morgan, he handed me a role that was precious and that role really suited my kind of play. It made it our team so dangerous. I was like a nightmare to any club I played at that time.”
The midfielder emphasised on the fact that East Bengal were successful at that time because of the unity in the squad.
He said, “If you watch that team, there were no best players. We played as a team, functioned as a unit. It was a collective effort. Mohun Bagan at that time had excellent individual players but we were a team.
"We played a beautiful style of football. A lot of coaches during that time tried to imitate us but couldn’t as they did not have the right set of players. So kudos to Morgan, he did a really good job.”
Unfortunately, even after playing good football consistently for three seasons, the I-League title remained elusive to the Red and Golds. There were times East Bengal would within touching distance of the league title, only for them to let the advantage slip.
Orji said, “To be honest what I regret the most during my time at East Bengal was the I-League. I enjoyed everything else. My only regret is that I did not win the league. We won every single tournament in India but just couldn’t win the league. Every year we came very close. In all the seasons, we missed it by one or two points. There were one or two mistakes. If one or two things went our way, the league would have been our property. But this is what life is all about and football is about.”
Even after Orji and Morgan's departure, East Bengal have continued to come up short when it mattered in the I-League title race, finishing second on multiple occasions despite having some very good players and coaches. The midfield lynchpin suggested that the Kolkata giants must undergo a structural change if they want to bag the I-League.
“I watched a couple of games in 2019-20, they had a couple of good players. They played well and had a good coach (Alejandro Menendez) but why they didn’t win the league, I don’t know. The answer lies within the team. As soon as they recognise it, fix it then the league will be theirs. They have what it takes to win the league.
“There has to be some restructuring in all aspects so that they can move forward. You cannot keep on doing the same thing and expect a different result.”