SC East Bengal, Marco Rivera and renewed hopes of a Red and Gold revival

Back in September 2021, the SC East Bengal faithful, who had endured a topsy-turvy time in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) under Robbie Fowler’s stewardship, breathed a slight sigh of relief. Not because they weren’t happy with what the club had achieved in 2020-21, but also because they felt that they needed a change in guard at the top.     

Minutes after Fowler’s departure was announced, SC East Bengal installed Manuel Diaz at the helm – a manager who was supposed to bring with himself a “winning mentality” and make the SC East Bengal fans dream of the dizzying heights they thought they were capable of scaling.

Unfortunately, nothing of the sort transpired. The club has played eleven games in the Hero ISL this season and remains the only outfit to have not tasted victory. They’ve scraped through to six draws but they are already three points adrift of NorthEast United FC, who sit second from bottom.

Thus, when SC East Bengal and Diaz parted ways, fans were left with a bittersweet feeling – sad because of the suddenness of the decision but hopeful that a new manager would usher them into promised land and restore the team to its past glories.  

As fate would have it, the person taking over the reins is someone the SC East Bengal faithful are attuned to – someone who had, a couple of seasons ago in the Hero I-League, assumed responsibility in a similar situation and had fashioned a second-placed finish.

In isolation, Mario Rivera isn’t a manager whose introduction will make the rest of the Hero ISL sit up and take notice. The arrival of Diaz and Fowler was probably more high-profile. What Rivera does bring to the fore, though, is experience – experience garnered at SC East Bengal and more importantly, in navigating the challenges that Indian football presents.

Rivera last managed SC East Bengal in 2019-20. In the first phase of that particular campaign, the Red and Gold Brigade were marooned in the lower trenches of the Hero I-League. Victories were hard to come by and they seemed a side very much in turmoil.

Rivera, however, took everything in his stride. It would’ve been very easy to baulk at the situation and flinch. But he didn’t. Additionally, he never lost track of where SC East Bengal wanted to be, meaning that a second-place finish, which seemed improbable when he took over, ultimately came to fruition.

At the moment, the Red and Gold Brigade find themselves in a situation that isn’t too dissimilar, at least in terms of their fortunes. The fact that they have been ravaged by injuries and had a negligible pre-season has only compounded those woes. The rest of the Hero ISL pack has also not been very accommodative and has put SC East Bengal to the sword regularly.

In terms of personnel, too, Diaz seemed to have hit a brick wall. He seemed intent on chopping and changing his system every game, until he eventually ran out of options and possible permutations. That Antonio Perosevic, one of their leading lights, is serving a lengthy suspension, hasn’t helped either.

Thus, it makes more sense for the Red and Gold Brigade to appoint a manager who knows his way around the club – someone who understands what it means to wear the badge proudly and someone who has previously had experience of extracting every ounce of performance from a relatively threadbare bunch.

This will, in fact, be his third tenure at SC East Bengal. Before he assumed responsibility as manager in early 2020, he was acting as the assistant coach to Alejandro Menendez. So, he has an idea about the pressure that accompanies anyone who manages the Red and Gold Brigade.

During his previous stint as head coach, the Spaniard secured three victories in eight matches and was defeated only twice. SC East Bengal also conceded only eight goals in those games and scored 11 – numbers that are a stark contrast from what they have mustered in this iteration of the Hero ISL.

Most tellingly, though, Rivera will bring a bit of freshness to a side that had been guilty of turning a touch stale in recent weeks. Under Diaz, there seemed an inevitability about the result even before both teams had kicked a ball. With Rivera – a manager who has enjoyed success at SC East Bengal previously, they might just believe that a brighter horizon awaits.

For a major chunk of this season, SC East Bengal have, owing to a variety of reasons, lacked confidence. They have had encouraging spells during games but they’ve almost always been followed by patches where they’ve imploded.

Interestingly enough, their most promising displays have come with Renedy Singh at the helm – a manager, who like Rivera, knows what it means to represent SC East Bengal and understands the strengths and the weakness of the players at his disposal, having worked with them closely. 

The other spin to this story is that SC East Bengal are perhaps at their nadir, meaning that the only trajectory they can traverse is upwards. In Rivera, they also have a manager who has done it before for the Red and Gold Brigade. It isn’t much and to an extent, even sounds far-fetched.

But with how everything has transpired for SC East Bengal this season, even this seems quite a lot.

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