Uncertainty looming over their future with ISL gaining popularity, the 10th edition of the I-League football may be East Bengal’s last chance to win the trophy, which is missing from their cabinet, as they look to start the campaign with a win against Aizawl FC on Saturday.
Despite their overwhelming success in other tournaments, the red-and-gold’s best finish has been runners-up in the top-tier league, which is speculated to be merged with ISL from 2017-18.
Trevor Morgan, East Bengal’s favourite who has guided the team to Federation Cup titles and I-League runners-up twice, is back in his second stint. The Englishman would be desperate to prove a point.
East Bengal have an interesting team combination after parting ways with Do Dong-Hyun and Ranti Martins. Their defence is bolstered by Ivan Bukenya, who played for South African top division club Kaizer Chiefs. Bukenya along with Robin Gurung and Anwar Ali, back after an impressive show in ISL with Mumbai City, will be interesting to watch.
In the midfield, NorthEast United FC’s Rowllin Borges has joined the side after his sparkling show in the ISL. His coordination with Mehtab Hossain will be much-anticipated.
Trinidadian Willis Plaza and Haitian Wedson Anselme have been the two foreign striking options along with Thongkhosiem Haokip, Nikhil Poojary and VP Suhair.
The Northeastern outfit had impressed with their spirited show in their debut last season. They finished second from bottom but escaped relegation after Goan clubs (Dempo and Salgaocar’s) pullout.
They have roped in the experienced pro Khalid Jamil, the Kuwait-born former India international, who coached Mumbai FC for seven years.
They will also rely on the experienced Liberian forward Alfred Jaryan, who will be representing the side for a second successive season.
Ivory Coast’s Kamo Bayi, who played in Salgaocar in the Goa league following a stint at the George Telegraph in the 2016 Calcutta Football League, and Nigerian defender Eze Kingsley are the other two foreign players.
Lacking in experience at the top-level, the Mizoram outfit will look to pace themselves slowly as a realistic target for them would be a top-five finish.