East Bengal FC head coach Stephen Constantine stated he is looking forward to facing ATK Mohun Bagan in the Kolkata Derby in what will be his side’s last Indian Super League (ISL) fixture of the 2022-23 campaign at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, in Kolkata, on Saturday.
The Red and Gold Brigade head into the Kolkata derby on the back of a gritty win against Mumbai City FC. Their previous outing saw them become the first side to inflict a home defeat on the Islanders this season, claiming their sixth win this campaign.
Apart from Mumbai City FC, the Torchbearers have also beaten Kerala Blasters FC and Bengaluru FC, the two other teams who have qualified for the playoffs. Constantine feels his side have had a lot of good moments despite their inconsistent run of results.
“I thought we were convincing (against Mumbai City FC). It was one of our best performances this season. If you go back to our season, some of the games we played, like we did against ATK Mohun Bagan (in the reverse fixture), we dominated the first half. We dominated FC Goa and Odisha FC. We put Hyderabad FC on their knees, home and away. We have had a lot of moments where we have been very good despite all of our problems,” he stated in the official pre-match press conference.
ATK Mohun Bagan registered a 2-0 win in the reverse fixture in October thanks to goals from Hugo Boumous and Manvir Singh. Much has changed since that fixture. While the Mariners will be looking to confirm a top-four finish with a win in the derby, opponents East Bengal FC are playing for pride and bragging rights.
Constantine was pleased with the way his side have progressed this season and believes their arch-rivals will come up against a different East Bengal FC side, compared to the one in the reverse fixture.
“I know everybody wants us to be in the top six. Nobody more than me. But to do that, you need to prepare, you need to plan and make sure that everything is okay. And this is what I have been working on for the last eight months. Going into next season and the Super Cup, we have a foundation. And then you have to build on things. I’m looking forward to Saturday’s game because we are a different team than the team that ATK Mohun Bagan played in the first round,” Constantine said.
“Every game is tough, but no tougher than the derby. Everybody wants to win the Kolkata derby. I think we are prepared in a good way and I’m looking forward to it,” he added.
Speaking on the advantage the Mariners hold with respect to their position on the table (fourtth), the Englishman refuted the argument and shed light on how derbies are a larger than life game that go beyond the recent results and league standings.
“When these two massive clubs meet, there are no advantages. It is about who wants it more, who’s going to fight from the first till the last minute. These games are very competitive, both teams want to win and it doesn’t matter where you are in the league (standings). There’s also the pride that winning the derby brings and then we can strut around Kolkata for the next two or three months knowing that you’ve won the derby and that is a big deal. That’s what we’ll try to do,” he said.
Constantine has been issuing a rallying call for all East Bengal FC fans to back and support the team by attending their home matches. The side has seen a slight decline in the number of fans attending the home games and it has been an unpleasant sight for the head coach this season. The 60-year-old has called for the fans to support the team through thick and thin.
“If our fans need me to ask them to come to a derby game, we are in serious trouble. Somebody did that a few years ago and said, we need the Indian fans to come and support the national team. If you need to be told to go and support your country or your club, you’re in the wrong sport,” he said.
After a lopsided season where the side failed to make the top six, Constantine spoke about his experience with East Bengal FC this campaign and reiterated his stance of bringing the club back to the top irrespective of whatever it takes.
“I have experienced just about every emotion that mankind can experience in this season alone. Everything good, everything bad, and everything in between. It’s been fantastic, difficult, and relentless. If I am the guy who puts East Bengal FC in the top six, it will possibly be one of the best moments of my career. Simply because having been in India for 20 years, I’ve had the national team for seven years and I thought we did very well with the national team,” he said.
“But to put East Bengal FC in the top six in the ISL will be for me my hattrick in India. LG cup, Asian Cup, and East Bengal FC in the top six, that’s my target, always has been, always will be as long as I’m here,” he added. (ANI)