Naorem Singh and Lalchungnunga discuss East Bengal FC's season, support of fans, and more
East Bengal FC have had rich history and success in the Indian football ecosystem since it's inception in 1920. Besides being one of the successful teams in terms of trophies and accolades, the club have developed and nurtured young players that have gone on to scale great heights. In forward Naorem Mahesh Singh and defender Lalchungnunga, East Bengal FC have unearthed two other gems who could make a big name for themselves in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) and Indian football.
Naorem Singh joined East Bengal FC last season from Kerala Blasters FC on loan and the 23-year signed for the Blasters on a permanent deal ahead of the Hero ISL 2022-23 season. Singh has established himself as a regular starter under Constantine this season, contributing a goal and an assist in 10 games, including a hat-trick of assists against Jamshedpur FC, becoming the first Indian to do so in the Hero ISL. Lalchungnunga, too, came into the team as a loan player from Sreenidi Deccan but recently signed a permanent deal which will keep him in the club till 2026. Both Singh and Lalchungnunga have played a key role for the Red & Golds this season, who are looking to reach the Hero ISL playoffs for the first time in history.
East Bengal FC is having a relatively good season compared to their previous two seasons in the Hero ISL. They endured a ninth-place finish during their debut Hero ISL season before finishing at the bottom the following season. Among many things which have worked this season is the understanding between the young and experienced players. While Singh has been an intergral part of EBFC's attack alongside Cleiton Silva and VP Suhair, Lalchungnunga seems to have formed a good chemistry with Ivan Gonzalez in the heart of the defence. Both Singh and Lalchungnunga spoke about the influence of the senior players in the team.
'I learn a lot from him (Cleiton Silva). If I want to go to the national team or play consistently, I need to do these things which Silva is doing. When a ball goes there, I look up once and he is everywhere and every time he is moving, I learn from him and it makes my decision a little bit easier," said Singh.
Lalchungnunga said: "Ivan (Gonzalez) and I are like very good friends and he helped me a lot in the games and in the training also and before the match and after the match on what I can do better in the matches and in the training as well. He tried to make me improve better day by day.
This is Lalchungnunga debut season in the Hero ISL. He represented Aizawl FC and Sreenidi Deccan in the Hero ISL I-league previously. At just 22 years of age, the defender has featured in all 11 matches so far and he has been impressive, registering 38 tackles and 54 clearances. The Aizawl-born defender thanked Constantine for placing trust in him and explained the difference he has witnessed between the leagues.
"The quality of the foreign players and the Indian players is a bit different between I-League and Hero ISL. This is my first year and the quality of the game here is very good. I have to defend against the good foreign strikers, sometimes I'm also surprised with the quality they have. It's more difficult to play in the Hero ISL, but it gives me a challenge to push myself better day by day," said Lalchungnunga.
'There is no pressure for me because the coaching staff and my teammates are helping and defense is also good to me and because of them, I have a quite good performance and I try to play better each game. When we lose, the fans are good to me, I get some messages and in the streets also that they are supporting me at the hard times," he added.
East Bengal have lost seven games so far, including four at home. However, despite their inconsistent form this season, East Bengal FC are not far off the sixth spot in the Hero ISL standings. Singh spoke about the process behind the recovery after every loss and how the team is bouncing back.
"Yeah, it's very difficult, especially when we lose a game. Like the next day, I felt like I don't want to see the fans, I won't eat or sleep properly after the match but I calm myself. I feel bad after the game, but it's done. We cannot change anything now so better we go all out next game again. We prepare for the next game and we may get some results that might change everything, every situation. That's (how) we go to every game," said the 23-year-old midfielder.
In the last season, East Bengal FC had a forgettable outing. They finished at the bottom in the Hero ISL table with a solitary win, but this season they already have four wins and are very much in the playoffs race. Singh, who is playing the second season with the Red and Gold Brigade, explained what changes he experienced between these two seasons.
"This season, we are organised. We are like a single unit as a team, I didn't see this much last season. It was like an individual effort, we didn't get results also, some of the players were playing like they didn't want to play and even the coaches also felt like it’s over. We gave out everything. But this season it is more unity and the coach also stands with us. We defend in a good shape and it's very difficult to beat us when we are in good shape," he said.
East Bengal FC have one of the most passionate set of supporters in the Hero ISL, but have found it hard to produce results at home in front of their home fans. Their win against Bengaluru FC in December was their first home victory of the season and it was a joyous moment for the fans who came to support the team. Lalchungnunga expressed his wish to see the fans supporting the team, even during their difficult phases.
"Since my childhood, I have seen Mohun Bagan and East Bengal FC fans in huge numbers and this season I know, we are facing a difficult time with the team and maybe we are not playing up to their expectation, but I would want to ask them to come and support us even in the hard times. Their presence in the ground is a huge boost for us, that gives us a boost to fight till the end and win the match," said the defender.
East Bengal FC have accumulated 12 points so far this season and currently at the eight position in the table, seven points away from Odisha FC, who are in sixth position. Singh believes getting back-to-back wins would definitely help them to reach the playoffs.
"We win one game and we lose one game, maybe two. If we win continuously for three games, I think we still have chances. The next weekend is very important for us. I think we can get some points, we are still looking to go to the top six and give our best. We can go and we can do this," he concluded.