East Bengal & ATK Mohun Bagan: ISL’s ‘New’ Teams With Old Rivalry

East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have traded blows for a century and their rivalry will continue in unfamiliar terrain.

Updated
Football
4 min read
East Bengal are the newest entrants to the ISL while ATK and Mohun Bagan merged to form ATK MB from this season onwards.
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After a wait of six full seasons, the Indian Super League has embraced Indian football’s biggest, oldest and most important rivalry. East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have traded blows over the past century and after a few years of resistance, in part due to financial reasons, they’ve jumped on to the glitzy ISL caravan.

Mohun Bagan joined hands with ISL winners ATK while East Bengal turned over a fresh page with a new investor and both combined brought with them a fan base like no other. Faithful and loyal to the core, these fans may have a few questions going forward, such as which of the players from their I-league sides have been retained, what do their jerseys look like and what the coaches have planned.

All this puts more spotlight on the biggest rivalry in Indian football – Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal, green and maroon vs red and gold.

It is difficult to imagine a season of topflight Indian football without the iconic green and maroon and the red and gold, isn’t it?

‘New’ Clubs With Great History

ATK Mohun Bagan

I-League champions in the last season, Mohun Bagan merged with ATK earlier this year (January 2020). This marriage elucidated plenty of strong reactions from the Bagan faithful as the business deal meant ATK took charge, leaving little place for emotion and history.

The initiation was quite eventful with a controversial ad and changes to the club crest leading to an unhappy fan base, who weren’t afforded an inch by knowledgeable and articulate rival fans!

Born in 1889, Mohun Bagan won the IFA Shield in pre-independent India in 1911, making them the first Indian club to win a domestic competition during a time when most of the field comprised British teams. Since then they’ve gone from strength to strength and been one of the most dominant forces in Indian football.

East Bengal

The latest entrant into the glitzy world of the Indian Super League, East Bengal, one of Indian football’s most decorated clubs, announced their entry on 27 September after new investors Kolkata-based Shree Cement Limited came into the picture. Ever since Mohun Bagan merged with ATK, all eyes were on East Bengal.

One of East Bengal’s most memorable campaigns was in 2003 when they beat some of the top teams in Asia to win the inaugural edition of ASEAN Cup under Subhas Bhowmick. Bhaichung Bhutia led the attack for a star-studded team.

Squads

ATKMB: While the name has changed and the colours will be different for the outfit, the squad is almost the same as ATK’s 2019-20 ISL title winning campaign with the manager Antonio Habas staying on in charge. Only one player who won the 2019-20 I-League for Mohun Bagan is in the ATKMB squad – Sheikh Sahil.

They’ve made a few changes that have strengthened their side quite a bit. The high profile singing of Sandesh Jhingan has added more meat to the defense as has the addition of Tiri.

For Habas, there is strength in every department of the squad and the noise on the outside is unlikely any attention from him or the players.

EB: Coached by the former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler, who’s brought along with him his coaching staff and picked his overseas players. Unfortunately he hadn’t been hired yet when the Indian contingent was picked.

The Indian contingent is led by Jeje Lalpkehlua and Eugeneson Lyngdoh, neither of whom have been at their best. The former is returning from a long injury layoff and the backing a striker of Fowler’s stature might just be enough for him.

Fowler’s most notable transfers for the side have been former Norwich City winger Anthony Pilkington, former Southampton defender Danny Fox and ex Birmingham City midfielder Jacques Maghoma.

Coaches

Antonio Habas: The Spaniard is well known to Indian football and is the most successful coach in the ISL. He’s won two titles with the ATK, the second being earlier in 2020 while the first came in the inaugural season of the ISL.

Expect Habas, who is very popular in the dressing room, to serve up the same fare as always where he concentrates on excellence in defense and forceful attackers to drive the side on.

Robbie Fowler and the East Bengal coaching staff. 
Robbie Fowler and the East Bengal coaching staff. 
(Image: East Bengal)

Robbie Fowler: The former England striker knows fully well about big occasions and tough tasks, both as a player and as a coach. Fowler’s been quite successful at his trade, whether it be Anfield or Australia.

Fowler, who began his coaching career as player manager at Muangthong United, took his first managerial job at a struggling Brisbane Roar and took them up to fourth in the 2019/20 season in the A-League. Defensive grit and pace on the counter is what’s driven Fowler story from the touchline so far.

His signing showed intent and while he lacks extensive experience, his recent record is good.

Jeje during a training session with East Bengal in Goa ahead of ISL 2020.
Jeje during a training session with East Bengal in Goa ahead of ISL 2020.
(Image: East Bengal)

Key Players

ATKMB: Of course, Roy Krishna. The joint top scorer alongside Chennaiyin’s Nerijus Valskis, the Fijian international terrorised defenses last season with regularity and is very adaptable to quick changes of tactics. With defense tightening up and the creative players getting more freedom expect Krishna to score quite a few. He took 10 COVID-19 tests and quarantined for 30 days in three countries to reach in time for the tournament after all!

EB: Former Norwich City winger Anthony Pilkington and Jeje. Pilkington brings quality delivery and pace on the wings from which Jeje, who’s back after more than a year out, could benefit. And an in-form Jeje is one of India’s best attackers.

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