Haven’t come here to finish last: East Bengal FC head coach Stephen Constantine

East Bengal FC head coach Stephen Constantine believes his team are far from the finished article as they take on Kerala Blasters FC in the opening encounter of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 campaign at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi on Friday but vowed to do everything in their capacity to take three points from the match.

The Red and Golds have undergone an overhaul in the summer as the former Indian men's national team head coach has taken over the club that have almost an entirely new squad this season.

Constantine suggested his team will take it one step at a time in the Hero ISL this season as the players and the coaching staff slowly understand each other better.

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Defender Sauvik Chakrabarti who joined from defending champions Hyderabad FC and who knows what it takes to win the Hero ISL title believes that their squad is good enough to compete at the top in the Hero ISL.

Constantine and Chakrabarti addressed the media in the pre-match press conference in Kochi on Thursday ahead of the match.

Here are the excerpts from Constantine’s press conference:

Why did you choose East Bengal FC and why did you choose to come back to Indian football?

Constantine: I deliberately didn't join any (Indian) club after the Indian national team job. It's been three years and East Bengal FC asked me nicely. It was an opportunity that I felt a bit like an unfinished business having not done it at the club level (in India). So it was a great opportunity for me and here I am.

Do you feel your experience of having coached in India before gives you an advantage over your predecessors who have coached East Bengal FC in the Hero ISL?

Constantine: Absolutely. I understand how Indian players think, and how they feel and that for sure is an advantage. But the past is the past and I can't change what happened last season or the season before. I can change what's going to happen next. We have worked very hard in the short time that we have been together. I had 12 players when I arrived here but now we have a squad of 26-27 players and they have worked very hard for me so far.

But the proof is in the pudding and we will know on Friday how far we have come. We are not the finished article but haven't come to lose the game on Friday and I haven't come to East Bengal FC to finish in the last place. So, I will do everything I can to make it work.

What is your take on the problems that you had to handle before taking over? How do you look at the match against Kerala Blasters FC?

Constantine: All my problems are well documented and all I'm focused on is the game against Kerala Blasters FC. They have a good side. Ivan (Vukomanovic) is in his second year, so the players are familiar with each other. With the number of fans that you have here, it's going to be a difficult game. All of the games are going to be difficult for us. We will take just one game at a time and we will just try to win every game. We don't play football to lose. The boys will give it their all on Friday and hopefully, we can win three points.

Three of your foreign players - Ivan Gonzalez, Cleiton Silva, and Alex Lima - have Hero ISL experience. Do you feel these players will form the spine of your team?

Constantine: Having Hero ISL experience was important for us in terms of the foreigners because they know (about the league). All three have produced (the goods), all three are big characters and all three have no issues which is the case with some foreigners that come here. So, it is good to have players who know the Hero ISL and they will be important players for us going into the new season.

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For Indian football, how important is it for a club like East Bengal FC to do well? With six teams making the playoffs this season, is it a realistic expectation for the team?

Constantine: Teams like Manchester City, Leeds United, and Manchester United have been relegated from the Premier League. So history is history. What is important is what you do now and if you don't do the right things when you have time you fall by the wayside. Kerala Blasters FC have been in existence for just nine years but they finished fourth last season. We have been in existence for over 100 years but what have we done? It's good to have history to look back on but each team will make its own history based on their results and situation.

We are expecting a massive crowd for the game against Kerala Blasters FC. How have you prepared your team to face such a loud crowd?

Most of the players have had some experience of the Kolkata derby. A lot of Indian players have played in the Hero ISL, so they would have played here and in Kolkata which I think are the two biggest crowds. We don't worry about things that we can't control. Hopefully, we can keep the crowd quiet on Friday but that will depend on how we play and what the score is. So we try to control what we can control.

Here are the excerpts from Sauvik Chakrabarti’s press conference:

What is your opinion of the squad in the time that you have spent with it and what's your opinion on the match against Kerala Blasters FC?

Chakrabarti: In my opinion, our squad is one of the strongest squads. We may not look that way on paper but as a team, we are practising for six weeks. I think most of the boys are very talented and foreigners are also helping us to be good on the field. Our coaches and staff are helping us to be a team and not just a normal team but be one of the strongest teams. We want to improve in every game. In my opinion, we have a very strong team. Let's see what happens.

You had a fantastic season last campaign with Hyderabad FC. What are your thoughts about playing for East Bengal FC this season and what has the coach been telling you?

Chakrabarti: The name East Bengal FC is enough to choose to move here. Also, I am from Kolkata and I wanted to play for a club from here. We will try our level best to win. We have to do more for our supporters and for us too.

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