East Bengal may be the 11th and newest team to enter the ISL, but they are a club with a rich and deep history going back more than 100 years, and a fan base that is amongst the most passionate in the country. Sadly, none of them will be in the stands this time, but they will continue to support the team from afar and on social media.
Delays in securing financial backing – they are now owned by Shree Cement – meant that confirmation that they would be joining the league came comparatively late, and, although they made the exciting appointment of Robbie Fowler as manager, the former Liverpool and England manager would have liked more time to build his squad and work with them on the training ground.
Despite this, Fowler has brought in several players with English league experience, including Anthony Pilkington, who has played for the like of Wigan Athletic, Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, and Danny Fox, whose CV includes spells with Celtic, Burnley and Southampton.
Joining them are Congolese winger Jacques Maghoma who played for Championship side Birmingham City, and German central midfielder Matti Steinmann who Fowler knows from his time in Australian football.
One of the Englishman’s biggest challenges is getting to know the strengths of the Indians in his side, and to help him, he has appointed former Indian captain Renedy Singh as his assistant.
Together they will need to find the right blend for the team, although Fowler has already made it clear that he intends to play a style of football based on possession.
It would be asking a lot for East Bengal to make the play-offs in their first season in the league, especially as they were given comparatively little time to prepare for it. Fowler and the foreign contingent he has assembled do not have any experience in Indian football, and the learning curve may be too steep first-time round.
However, if they can finish mid-table, that may well set them up for a more sustained challenge next time round.
SC East Bengal will play ATK Mohun-Bagan at the Tilak Maidan Stadium in Vasco de Gama on Friday, November 25th. Kick-off is at 4 pm local time.