Brendon Netto provides the lowdown on Kingfisher East Bengal FC ahead of Johor Darul Ta'zim’s AFC Cup clash with the Indian side on Tuesday…
Who are they?
Founded in 1920, East Bengal are the most successful team in Indian football history, having amassed a tally of 113 titles on the domestic front. Their greatest feat, however, was arguably when they became the first Indian club to win a tournament outside South Asia by lifting the ASEAN Cup in 2003, defeating BEC Tero Sasana in the final.
Known as the Red and Gold Brigade, they also hold the distinction of having represented India in Asian competitions the most times. They were semi-finalists in the AFC Cup in the 2013 season, where they secured a win and a draw against Selangor in the group stages.
East Bengal are familiar with the AFC Cup and have several players who have previously featured in the competition. Besides boasting a potent strike force in Ranti Martins and Dudu Omagbeni, they have a solid midfield and are difficult to bypass through the middle.
Armando Colaco was recently sacked by the club after 15 months as head coach. Eelco Schattorie was swiftly appointed in his place on the following day, but the team is bound to endure a period of transition, putting their immediate performances in jeopardy.
On the pitch, the front two of Ranti Martins and Dudu Omagbemi, though excellent strikers individually, haven’t forged a great partnership yet. The team also tends to lack creativity through the middle and largely rely on crosses to unlock defences, but the set-up could be altered with the new man in charge.
East Bengal’s system and tactics are subject to change under the new manager but in recent times, they have set up in a 4-4-2 formation. Mehtab Hossain and Harmanjot Khabra are deployed in central midfield. The duo is full of running and are a formidable midfield pairing but neither are blessed with great ball distribution.
The left flank is occupied by either Didika Ralte or Joaquim Abranches while either Leo Bertos or Cavin Lobo patrols the opposite side. They usually attempt to get the ball wide, stretch the opposition’s backline and cross it in for the two strikers in the middle.
One player whom East Bengal will have no qualms over relying on for goals this season is Ranti Martins. The Nigerian striker has been prolific throughout his career in Indian football ever since he first signed for Goan outfit Dempo SC back in 2004, with whom he won the league five times while also picking up two other domestic trophies.
The 28-year-old enjoys the responsibility of being the premier goal-getter wherever he plies his trade rather than being burdened by it. Over eight years with Dempo, he scored a total of 161 goals in 172 appearances before bagging 30 in 40 appearances for United SC in his two-year stint with them. Since 2012, Martins has boasted a record of 43 I-League strikes in just 54 appearances. He was named the AIFF I-League Foreigner of the Year for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
Martins has been one of the few positives at the start of the current campaign for East Bengal as he is the league’s top scorer so far with five goals in six appearances.
One can’t speak about East Bengal very long without mentioning Mohun Bagan. The two sides have been local rivals for nearly a century, making the Kolkata derby the biggest game in Indian football.
In fact, Mohun Bagan were even involved in the founding of East Bengal. In 1920, Jorabagan were due to play Mohun Bagan in the Coochbehar Cup, but the mysterious and notable exclusion of defender Sailesh Bose from the squad raised eyebrows. The vice-president of Jorabagan demanded that Bose be included but was denied and so he, along with four other members, left the club and founded East Bengal just three days later. Such is the history and passion surrounding the Kolkata derby that it has often been likened to the Old Firm derby between Scottish teams Celtic and Rangers.
The derby has also witnessed Indian football’s darkest hour. In August 1980, a red card for Mohun Bagan's Bidesh Bose agitated the crowd and the stampede that followed sadly claimed the lives of 16 supporters at Eden Gardens.
Ahmed Khan is a name that’s been etched into the history books at East Bengal, as he is regarded by many as the finest footballer India has ever produced. In the 1950s, the club embarked on a golden era as they dominated Indian football in a 2-3-5 formation. The team was spearheaded by the famous ‘Five Pandavas’, a five-man attack of which Khan was a key member.
Despite not being prolific goal-scorer – he scored only 68 times for the club during his distinguished career – he was voted by the East Bengal fans as the club’s best forward of the millennium due to his outstanding playmaking ability. He also represented India at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics and helped his country to win gold in the 1951 Asian Games.
(Pictures: East Bengal FC, Getty Images)