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East Bengal’s dramatic coach change shows two sides of Indian football

Jaydeep Basu

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Alejandro Menendez
East Bengal went trophyless during Alejandro Menendez's tenure at the helm. Photos: Twitter

New Delhi: Spanish manager Alejandro Menendez had a highly forgettable season for East Bengal this time before he decided to put down his papers. Many fans heaved a sigh of relief. Some felt it was better late than never.

They can’t be blamed. For sure. To suffer three back to back defeats, including one against bitter rivals Mohun Bagan, was too much to bear. Alejandro’s time was truly up. He himself realised it.

Yet, a bunch of East Bengal supporters were present at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata when Alejandro left with bag and baggage.

They were there to bid their coach a farewell. So touched Alejandro was by the gesture that he had tears in his eyes when he finally walked through the entry gate.

To followers of the game, Alejandro’s premature exit was no unique situation. Chopping and changing of coaches is a constant process in professional soccer. Perform or perish is the motto. Coaches too know it well.

In fact, East Bengal coach’s mid-season ouster is not the first such instance in India this season. Two more foreign coaches have fallen out of favour in country’s franchise league already. For lack of performance, of course.

Under-fire East Bengal coach Alejandro resigns after three straight defeats

Chennai outfit’s John Gregory’s exit was long expected. He had led the club to victory in the 2016-17 season but also finished at the bottom last time. And after a few disappointing games this season, he had to go.

Once a formidable midfielder and now a reputed coach, Gregory knew what was coming.

“It’s about time I sit with the owner and had a talk. We can’t continue like this,” he said. He was finally relieved of his duty. The club replaced him with Owen Coyle. Another big name, former Burnley and Bolton Wanderers manager.

In the Hyderabad-based club, the New Year didn’t start well for Phil Brown. An absolutely tumultuous season with just one win saw the experienced manager’s reign coming to an end. In walked the tried and tested Albert Roca.

I-League side TRAU FC also got rid of Brazilian coach Douglas da Silva after a few games.

There is nothing unusual in these changes. It is part of every coach’s life. It is part of football. Sometimes it kicks off a controversy. On most occasions, the transition happens smoothly. Strictly confined within the four walls of a conference room.

Despite sell-out Kolkata derby, plight of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal is Indian football’s biggest irony

Remember how the supposed-to-be long-term relationship between David James and the Kerala side he was coaching ended abruptly last season. The high profile-coach once guided the club to the title round. But he had to go when the chips were down.

Not to forget that the Englishman returned to the club after his predecessor Rene Meulensteen was sacked. But after six draws and five defeats, James, going by soccer logic, couldn’t be there anymore.

Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are famous for their fan base, tradition and legacy. They are equally notorious for showing coach the door when they lose (something which happens quite frequently these days).

The Kerala side could soon be their serious competitors. In their short history, they have seen eight managers. English, Irish, Dutch, Portuguese – coaches from all over Europe have come and gone in search of the elusive league title.

So, what’s the big deal if another coach in East Bengal has bitten the dust? Why fans took the pain of going to the airport to him off?

It is like the American singer Kenny Rogers song: “Cos I really care about you/And you really care about me/There lies the difference…”.

Every little thing does matter in clubs which have rich history, solid fan base and deep impact in people’s mind. Every little development in club matters is followed passionately. Whether it is about coaches’ appointment or sacking; recruitment of a new foreigner or a player’s injury.

Hundreds of fans cried openly when a bankrupt Bury FC were expelled from the football league. These are things which can never be bought by hard cash and extravaganza.

Some coaches will return home by pulling the trolley alone at the airport. Few will be as lucky as Alejandro Menendez.

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