Midfielder Edwin Vanspaul is counting down the days before he starts a new chapter in his professional footballing career with Hero Indian Super League (ISL) side East Bengal FC in the 2023-24 season.

Having put pen to paper with the Red and Gold Brigade on a two-year deal, Vanspaul believes he has taken a step in the right direction and is prepared to hone his new responsibilities at one of India’s biggest clubs.

“I needed a change; I needed a new challenge. East Bengal FC is one of the biggest clubs in Asia and has a rich legacy. Tamil Nadu players like Raman anna (Raman Vijayan) and the late K Kulothungan anna played for it. They delivered and created a name for themselves. We grew up watching them play for East Bengal FC. When the club asked if I was interested in signing for it… it is a matter of pride. It is a big step that I am taking,” he said in an interaction with DTNext.in.

A former Hero I-League winner with Chennai City FC, Vanspaul recalled his early days at Chennaiyin FC in the 2019-20 season and how it took him some time to get adjusted with his then new club albeit being in the same city of Chennai. 

It was under English head coach John Gregory — who won the Marina Machans their second-ever Hero ISL title — who handed Vanspaul his Hero ISL debut in Chennaiyin FC’s away game against FC Goa.

“It was unbelievable. At that time, personally, I knew only Dhanpal Ganesh (midfielder from Tamil Nadu). It took me only a few weeks to gel well with the other members of the team. The foreign players were pretty supportive. Eli Sabia looked at me as someone who had played with him for two years,” Edwin said.

However, Gregory was shown the exit door after just six games as his side managed to chalk up just one point in the first four games that campaign. He was replaced by Scottish head coach Owen Coyle who made a miraculous turnaround with this side and guided them to the finals where they lost 3-2 to ATK FC.

“I was new to the set-up and I was under pressure to make myself ready for Hero ISL’s level. The results were not great. The media was questioning our signings and play, the fans were frustrated. We gave our best, but did not get the wins,” he said.

“He (Owen) would use some words to motivate the players. They created an impact on not only me but also the other players in the squad. The way he approached things was different. He managed to get the best out of the players,” he further added.

Coyle has a famed repertoire of churning the best out of his players and unlocking not just their potential, but additional attributes in their gamestyle and playing positions. Earlier playing as a full-back, an unanticipated circumstance led Vanspaul to move into midfield where the 30-year-old paired alongside Anirudh Thapa, and since then, Vanspaul has stuck onto the midfield duties. 

“Under Owen, I played a few matches as a full-back. Germanpreet Singh was suspended for the home match against NorthEast United FC (in January 2020). Owen gave me the confidence to play as a midfielder. He just asked me to give my best,” he said.

“Owen asked me when I had last played as a midfielder. I told him that I had played as a midfielder in the I-League but that I had been playing as a full-back for the last two years. The day before the NorthEast match, he told me that we could rectify the mistakes if I committed them. Somehow, I did not make mistakes in that match and played well alongside Thapa. He asked me to continue playing the way I did,” he elaborated.

After Coyle’s exit from the club, the midfielder found it hard to cement his spot in the playing XI. While his versatility of playing several roles was an added advantage, it wasn’t seen in the same manner by the oncoming coaches in Csaba Laszlo, Bozidar Bandovic, and Thomas Brdaric.

“I can go and tell someone like Owen that I am ready to play in any position… it is about the good understanding which I had with him. He was ready to slot me in wherever he wanted me to play. The other coaches looked at the standard options. That is why my stats (gametime in particular) were not great,” said Edwin.

“We cannot expect all the coaches to be the same. They will have their own ideologies. We will have to be flexible for the benefit of the team. But looking from a player’s point of view and keeping our career in mind, it is better to stick to one position. I did not get enough opportunities because of this (switching positions). As a result, I unfortunately could not take the next step in my career [in the last few years],” he added.

The Neyveli-born player tallied just four goal contributions across the last three Hero ISL seasons. Despite his low goalscoring numbers and inability to take his side to the playoffs, Vanspaul is grateful to have played a part for Chennaiyin FC.

“There may have been some negativity within me when I did not play. But I never showed that outside and I always tried to spread positivity. Leaving my hometown (state) club after four years… I am emotional. But as a professional, I will have to move on,” he concluded.