All I ask from the fans is to encourage the players: East Bengal FC’s Stephen Constantine

East Bengal FC head coach Stephen Constantine requested the fans to encourage the players even when they make mistakes ahead of their Hero Indian Super League (ISL) clash against Mumbai City FC, at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, in Kolkata, on Friday.

Placed eighth on the Hero ISL standings, East Bengal FC are yet to register a home win this season, despite the support of their fans. They have lost three straight games at home and all their points so far this season have come on the road.

Speaking at the pre-match press conference alongside forward Cleiton Silva, Constantine pointed out that the pressure of playing in front of fans might have been one of the reasons that has affected their home record. The East Bengal FC head coach mentioned fans need to stick behind the players even in bad times and demanded them to be patient.

Here are the excerpts from Constantine:

You played Mumbai City FC in the Durand Cup. What difference do you see in them now compared to before?

Constantine: Well, they’re playing league matches and before, the Durand Cup was a four-game tournament (till the knockout stage). Most of the teams used the Durand Cup as a pre-season friendly, we certainly did. When we played them we had three or four foreigners and it was a decent game. The atmosphere and the intensity was completely different. You cannot compare the time then and now. It’s been four matches and it’s very different. Plus they are unbeaten, (so) it will be a difficult game.

What is the special thing about Mumbai City FC?

Constantine: Well, they got lots of money which allows them to make better choices. This is not new, but a fact. When you have the finances to bring in whoever you want, it is a big bonus. They have a good team and they are playing very well. They have some good players, but we will fight like we do with everybody.

I don’t think we have been outplayed or destroyed by any team so far. We have just been unfortunate and we have made some poor mistakes and we have not done certain things to the best of our abilities and we have paid for those mistakes. But I think you can see in all the games that we have been competitive. We have been difficult to beat. We have beaten ourselves on several occasions and we knew that it would be like that this season, so we will see what happens.

Your position on the table could have been better if the team put up good performances at home. Your thoughts?

Constantine: We were very unlucky to lose against FC Goa. We were very disappointed to lose to Odisha FC, the way we did. We have dropped points at home that we should not have had and of course, if we could have taken points in those games, we would have 14 points. And we have not won at home. On Friday, it will give us an opportunity to put that right and then we face Bengaluru FC. We have nine-ten games left after this. We’re halfway into the season and let’s see what happens.

What do you think has gone wrong at home?

Constantine: There are a number of reasons. When you play in front of 72,000 people, it’s a fantastic atmosphere and you see how we play in other games in front of 10,000 people or 6,000 - the fans are very demanding, they want success straight away; if we make a mistake straightaway the fans get upset.

I said this the last time I spoke that we need them on our side, in the good times and the bad ones. Everybody makes mistakes. If a player makes mistakes, he doesn’t do it on purpose. Maybe he is under pressure due to the game, the atmosphere and many other things. But they need to stick behind our players and support them, the same way we do for our families through thick and thin. All I ask from the fans is to encourage the players. We are not perfect and we will make mistakes. But we will learn from the mistakes and try to get better.

Do you think the pressure of making mistakes has affected the performances?

Constantine: For me, playing football is not pressure. It’s a privilege to be the head coach of East Bengal FC and for the players as well who play for the club. It’s a privilege to play football and get paid - it’s the best job in the world. But everybody wants success and they want it soon, but it doesn’t happen that quickly. We need to be patient. I said at the beginning that it is going to be a tough and long season. Let’s get through this season and we will improve. We will try to be better this season for next season.

Any injury concerns for your team?

Constantine: We have one or two players that are doubtful. Jordan (O’Doherty) is doubtful and it’s 50-50. Himanshu is out. We have our last training session on Thursday and we will see what happens.

Souvik (Chakrabarti) is getting there (to full fitness). He had dengue and it took quite a few weeks (for him to recover). He has been training well for the last few weeks so I expect him to be back in the squad. He was in the squad last week as well.

The difference between East Bengal FC and Mumbai City FC in the points table has been huge. What are your thoughts?

Constantine: All the games have been huge. The Hero ISL is seen all over the world. The production of the games has been very good. I don’t differentiate between teams. 

In most of the matches, the team has created a lot of opportunities. Even against Hyderabad FC, East Bengal FC played with a fighting spirit for which Manolo Marquez congratulated the team. How do you see that?

Constantine: I think it's very important for the way we play. We like to play quickly, we like to get the ball out wide, into the box, and attack it. We want to be aggressive but you need to have the players to do that. Unfortunately, we are relying a little bit too much on Cleiton, and he needs help for somebody else to score five, six, seven goals. That takes a lot of pressure off him and also, you know, when you're looking at us you say, okay, where the goal is going to come from.

Cleiton's got five or six (goals), Semboi (Haokip) has got one. So, let's look after Cleiton and they can afford to, in some cases, double mark him, then that takes out our key player and that creates a problem. So that's why we play with two upfront. We try to share the goals but at the moment so far it's been up to Cleiton and I hope he scores on Friday.

Here are the excerpts from Cleiton:

Your thoughts on playing in front of the home crowd?

Cleiton: I think it’s always special to play at home because of the support we have for the team. I just had a talk with the coach today that sometimes the pitch is too big and 17-20000 people are not enough for this big ground. We wish for them to make more noise, to come and support us not only for the derby, but for every game.

East Bengal FC is not performing up to expected standards. Do you have the same view?

Cleiton: For the last two seasons, this club won four matches. This time we’ve won three matches, so I think we still need to improve and prove ourselves. But I think as the coach said, it's not so easy to improve, it’s not magic, football demands time, a little bit. If you see the top clubs in India that are Mumbai (City FC), ATK (Mohun Bagan), and Hyderabad (FC), most of the players are together for the last three years.

Since I’ve arrived here (in the Hero ISL), I don’t see many changes in Mumbai City FC, not many changes in Hyderabad FC, not many changes in ATK Mohun Bagan, and they can bring the best players they want. They just have money for this. When you have this power it is easier to produce (results), if you can change one player for another player and then keep producing the same way, it is fantastic, but we still don't have this.

Your combination with Naorem Mahesh Singh is great, and Mumbai City FC are in the top two of the league table, but their defence is not that great in the last few matches. So, how do you plan to exploit them?     

Cleiton: Mumbai City FC always play an open game, it’s not about the defence of the team, it’s about their structure, they play very high, all their players are high up the pitch, they try to push up, and press. When you have speedy players like Mahesh and (VP) Suhair, we can hurt them.

We’ll try to be quick on the counter-attack because as we have seen, as we have known, Mumbai City FC has been playing this way since the last three years. Since (Sergio) Lobera’s (time), they have been playing a very high-pressing football, trying to play the ball, trying to press high when they lose the ball. So, if you can connect some two-three passes well, you can hurt them.

You have been here since August. So, over the past four months, how have you seen the progress of your fellow attackers?

Cleiton: I think training everyday has built these relationships, and now I see Mahesh has been developing a lot in his footballing (style), it’s good to have him because I can always release the ball. I can also see Suhair in the last few games is developing a lot. So, it's good to have partners like him (Mahesh), a player we can rely (on), a guy who can watch when you have the ball, you always look at him, he's always making the move, so I think on Friday, it’ll be like the same thing.

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