From the moment Carles Cuadrat and his team stepped off the plane at Kolkata last year in July, it was clear that a new era was beginning for East Bengal FC. Hundreds of Red and Gold faithful transformed the airport into a sea of Red and Gold, eagerly welcoming their new coach hours before his scheduled arrival. This fervent display of support, even at 3 AM, underscored the high expectations and passionate backing for Cuadrat's tenure.

East Bengal FC's performances over the past three seasons were disappointing. Cuadrat faced the formidable task of revitalizing and rejuvenating the team to restore its former glory. The fans had endured a twelve-year trophy drought, a period marked by frustration and disappointment. This long wait made their Kalinga Super Cup triumph in January even sweeter, rekindling the hope and pride that had been missing for over a decade.

Read More: East Bengal FC 2023-24 Season Review

Recently, Cuadrat sat down with the East Bengal FC Media Team to share his insights on the season's achievements, the remarkable fan support, the need to strengthen the team for the upcoming domestic and AFC competitions, and the path forward.

Reflecting on his journey with East Bengal FC, Cuadrat expressed his pride in the club's progress and the hope for a bright future.

He said, "I can see in the eyes of the fans who talk to me on the streets of Kolkata that we’ve regained the pride of being champions. Everyone truly believes that better things are in store for the club. We’ll participate in an Asian competition again. We have a quality staff and squad. Our U-17 and U-21 squads have been doing exceedingly well, winning championships and reaching finals.

“A two-year project allows you to put a lot of things in order within the club, and that is being achieved week after week. We are in a resurgent phase after many coaches came only for one season and left nothing for the future. If we all continue working in the same direction, the future will be quite bright for East Bengal,” he added.

Managing such a high-profile club comes with its pressures, but Cuadrat thrives in these conditions. Drawing from his extensive experience, including his time at FC Barcelona and facing European powerhouses, he channels this pressure into motivation.

“I like challenges. I belong to a sporting culture that had to wait fourteen years for Johan Cruyff to win a tournament again. I’ve been a player of that culture, playing finals against Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and also with the Spanish National Team, from the age of fifteen to twenty. I’ve played European finals against Germany, France and several other top European nations. Later, I was also a coach at FC Barcelona. I’ve been trained to withstand pressure. Pressure motivates me and brings the best out of me in extreme circumstances. I think it was a wise move to take charge of East Bengal FC – one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career," Cuadrat stated.

Cuadrat has focused on creating a resilient and competitive team structure. This season, the Red and Gold Brigade showed significant improvement, reaching the final of the Durand Cup and winning the Kalinga Super Cup, ending a twelve-year trophy drought.

"We’ve built a team structure that allows us to be competitive against any rival, to be able to fight for points until the referee blows the final whistle. It’s just the beginning of building a more consistent team that can beat anyone," he remarked.

One of Cuadrat's most emotional moments came after the Kalinga Super Cup when the fans' joy was palpable as they welcomed the champions.

He recalled, "When we returned from Odisha with the Kalinga Super Cup, the East Bengal fans were on cloud nine! Thousands of people received us at the Kolkata airport and we had to navigate three hours of traffic en route to the club ground as the fans accompanied our team bus on bikes. The bike rally was a sight to behold! Wherever you looked, you could only see bikes, red-and-gold shirts, red-and-gold flags and teary-eyed individuals. It will be an unforgettable experience."

Cuadrat’s focus on nurturing young talent has played a crucial role in the club’s progress. He has promoted 12 players from the reserve team and guided them through their development, making this a key aspect of his strategy.

However, he acknowledges that promoting players is a time-consuming process, as he further explained, saying, “We must understand that it’s a gradual process that must be practised with caution, without exposing the youngsters too much because a bad experience can sink a player and spoil his future. I am very careful with that. 

“I’m happy with what Sayan, Aman and Vishnu have given us this season, and I’m hopeful that they and the other youngsters can take their game to the next level. We’ll work on and off the field to make it possible,” the Spaniard added.

East Bengal FC made significant signings last season, including Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, Nandhakumar Sekar, and Nishu Kumar. However, the most crucial move was securing a long-term contract extension with their star Indian player, Naorem Mahesh Singh, midway through the season.

Cuadrat places greater emphasis on the saga surrounding Mahesh’s contract extension.

“I remember Dimas and me meeting Mahesh many times at the start of the season. He (Mahesh) got offers from various sources who told him that he would never win titles with East Bengal and that he should leave. But Mahesh believed in our project. The result? He won a trophy with us only four months after his extension,” he revealed.

The East Bengal FC reserves squad showcased remarkable performances this season, clinching the top spot in both the Zonal and National Group Stages. Despite falling short against Punjab FC in the National Championship, their qualification for the Next Gen Cup promises invaluable development opportunities for the young players.

As the season came to a close, Cuadrat took a moment to reflect on the team’s journey and the path ahead. Despite the challenges encountered, his optimism remains unwavering, and he remains steadfastly committed to forging a stronger team for the future.

Addressing the fans, he said, "We must all work in the same direction. A very exciting season awaits us as we’ll once again carry the club and the country’s name across Asia. Our club has returned to the international fold, and we are building a squad that our beloved fans can be proud of. 

“The foundation stones of the new East Bengal are being laid. We are moving in the right direction."

Cuadrat’s words underscore the remarkable strides East Bengal has taken under his leadership, setting the stage for an even brighter future. The steadfast support of the fans and the unwavering commitment of the team stand as the driving forces behind this resurgence.