ISL Season 7: With Fowler at helm, debutants East Bengal look strong on paper

Sweating it out
East Bengal players during a training session. Photo: Twitter

SC East Bengal, the 11th franchise to join the Indian Super League (ISL) bandwagon, will make their debut with a mouthwatering fixture - the Kolkata derby against ATK Mohun Bagan. The latter is the new entity born out of the amalgamation of their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan and ISL champions ATK. 

If the Red and Golds lose that match, their passionate fans would forgive them only if they go all the way in their debut season. 

Nevertheless, the teams who stamped their authority on the glitzy league in previous seasons will be wary of the competition’s new entrants. The hundred-year-old club have won the national league championship thrice, the Durand Cup 16 times and the Federation Cup eight times.

The first Kolkata Derby in the ISL will be played at Tilak Maidan on November 27.

English flair

While Spaniards swell the ranks of the most of the ISL sides, East Bengal have gone for the English flair and flavour. Coached by Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler, they have picked up some exciting foreign talents for their maiden campaign. 

The major acquisitions are winger Anthony Pilkington, defender Danny Fox and midfielder Jacques Maghoma. Former Norwich City and Wigan Athletic midfielder Pilkington is a seasoned campaigner, having played at various levels of English football. 

The 34-year-old Fox has been regular for Burnley and Southampton in the English Premier League. He has also played for Scottish giants Celtic for one season. 

Congolese midfielder Maghoma is a product of Tottenham Hotspur's youth academy. He has played for Championship sides Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham City for six seasons. The 32-year-old has also represented his country in 17 matches. 

Notable signings

The other foreign recruits are Welsh striker Aaron Joshua Amadi-Holloway, former Germany U-20 midfielder Matti Steinmann, and the 31-year-old Australian right-back Scott Neville. Both Joshua and Neville have had the experience of playing under Fowler at Brisbane Roars in the A-League. The 25-year-old Steinmann has played for Bundesliga side Hamburger SV and Wellington Phoenix FC in the A-League.

East Bengal have also snapped up some reputed names in Indian football such as Jeje Lalpekhlua, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Balwant Singh, Narayan Das, and Md. Rafique among others.

Fine attacking unit

Their key weapon in the attack will be the 27-year-old Joshua, who burst through the ranks of Cardiff City's youth team. He will have the company of Indian internationals Jeje and Balwant. Pilkington, who primarily plays as a winger, could be ideal for Fowler's counter-attacking style. The 19-year-old centre-forward Harmanpreet Singh, who did well for Indian Arrows in last season's I-League, is also a valuable addition to the squad.

Too many options

East Bengal's formidable midfield flaunts some proven performers like Steinmann and Maghoma. The likes of Bikash Jairu, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Haobam Singh, Loken Meitei, and Milan Singh will give the coach too many options to choose from.

Impressive line-up

Fox and Neville are expected to form a solid partnership in defence. The other players recruited by East Bengal to protect their backline are Pritam Singh, Samad Mallick, Rana Gharami, Novin Gurung, Rohen Singh, Anil Chavan and Narayan Das. 

They have also signed the experienced Debjit Majumder to guard the net. The 32-year-old was a member of the I-League winning Mohun Bagan squad in the 2019-20 season. Rafique Ali, Mirshad Michu, and Sankar Roy will be his deputies. 

The gaffer

Robbie Fowler is the seventh highest goal scorer in Premier League's history. Although the 45-year-old is the least experienced manager in the fray, he had a successful stint with Brisbane Roar in the A-League. It was his full-time appointment as head coach since the end of his illustrious playing career. Earlier, he had served as a player-manager at Thailand’s top division club Muangthong United. Former India captain Rennedy Singh will be Fowler’s deputy at East Bengal.

Full squad

Goalkeepers: Debjit Majumder, Rafique Ali, Mirshad Michu, and Sankar Roy.

Defenders: Abhishek Ambekar, Anil Chawan, Daniel Fox, Gurtej Singh, Lalramchullova, Mohamed Irshad, Nayaran Das, Rohen Singh, Novin Gurung, Rana Gharami, Samad Mallick, Scott Neville, and Pritam Singh.

Midfielders: Anthony Pilkington, Bikash Jairu, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Haobam Singh, Jacques, Loken Meitei, Milan Singh, Mohammed Rafique, Sehnaj Singh, Surchandra Singh, Matti Steinmann, Wahengbam Luwang, and Yumnam Singh.

Forwards: Aaron Amadi-Holloway, Balwant Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Jeje Lalpekhlua.

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