SC East Bengal‘s entry in the 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League came late and the signs were telling from the very off. The appointment of Robbie Fowler as head coach and hasty signings augured ill for the campaign that followed.
A constant tussle with match officials and disappointing results seemed to follow SC East Bengal, with Fowler claiming that the Indian players in his squad seemed like never have been coached before. Renedy Singh, the Indian assistant coach, who was untrusted to pick the Indian contingent, may have had a tough task of rounding the best of the rest with most star players having already been signed by other ISL teams. In turn, SCEB had a roster of ageing stars and injured players.
The stop-start momentum of the ‘Red and Gold’ brigade saw SC East Bengal lose both their Kolkata derbies against ATK Mohun Bagan, 0-2 in their first-ever ISL match and then 1-3 to all but end their playoff hopes. With defeats to their fiercest arch-rivals came the loss of bragging rights, especially given the fact that ATKMB have made it to the semi-finals, narrowly missing out on the League Winner’s Shield.
ISL 2020-21 record
Played: 20; Won: 3; Drawn: 8; Lost: 9; Points: 17; Standing: 9th
2020, the year they completed 100 years, was a bad year for SC East Bengal as they lost all their matches in a new league that they fought so hard to be in. They lost all their matches, although being given longer break in between matches and a later start as compared to other teams. Then came the ‘bright’ spark of their fledgeling campaign in the new year.
The signing of Bright Enobakhare from the Greek side AEK Athens was just the spark they needed. In his first appearance, Bright shone as SCEB got their first win and then in the second, scored a spectacular solo goal, dribbling past four FC Goa defenders and slot the ball past the keeper. The fans found their talismanic forward but for SC East Bengal it was all a bit too late.
The fact they started the season a step behind the other teams, meant that they not only played catch up with other teams but also their own fan’s expectations. The fitness of key players in the squad was a constant worry for the management and under-performing players became a burden that SC East Bengal found it difficult to rid themselves off.
Jeje Lalpekhlua’s injury concerns, coupled with Anthony Pilkington and Jacques Maghoma’s fluctuating form was one of the key reasons SC East Bengal’s poor showing. Added to that was coach Robbie Fowler’s lack of knowledge of ‘local’ players, or in fact, otherwise, meant the best 11 of the SCEB did not turn up better than their opponents on most nights.
Most valuable player
Matti Steinmann - Even though Bright Enobakhare garnered the most attention from the fans, who scored 3 goals in 12 appearances, it was the German midfielder who quietly held the midfield together for SC East Bengal. Steinmann made 53 tackles, retrieving the ball from deep and then driving at the opposition, kept his side in the game on many occasions. He scored the most goals for SC East Bengal, with four strikes to his name, but Steinmann was also had the joint-top assist-maker.
Anthony Pilkington - The man who made his name in England, playing for clubs like Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Norwich City, Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic, but looked a shadow of his former self on Indian shores. Heralded as the talisman for SC East Bengal, Pilkington did score 3 goals and provided assists on 3 other occasions but went missing in certain games.
Adding to the fact was his best position in the team, wasn’t really known as Fowler kept tinkering with the system, slotting him across the front three and in midfield too on occasions. For most parts, when he wasn’t misplacing a pass, he cut a frustrated figure fighting with the inability to stand up to his own stature in the Indian context.
SC East Bengal were on verge of figuring themselves out as the season drew to an end. The lack of preparedness showed in every mistimed tackle or most heavy balls played forward in hope that the run from the men up top would not be slowed down by cramps. The January signing should have been come in at the start of the season with a much better planned pre-season. Time was of the essence for SCEB and only time will tell if the fire will burn bright next season or fizzle out damp excitement.
Highest goal scorer: Matti Steinmann - 4
No of clean sheets: Subrata Paul and Debjit Majumder - 2