Throwback: When East Bengal FC U15 participated in the Nike World Premier Cup!
Last Updated 2:20 AM 5th June 2020 .
The East Bengal Football Club Academy perhaps had it’s highest achievement till date back in 2007 when the U15 team qualified for the Nike World Premier Cup – World stage after becoming the runner’s up in the South East Asian Zone.
The Nike Premier Cup tournament was established in 1993 featuring U15 players of 624 teams from 15 European countries. The tournament expanded to Asian countries the following year and in 1996 the tournament was reorganized to include a world final stage where the regional champions would play against one another and be crowned as the World Champions. The tournament was rebranded as “Manchester United Premier Cup” in 2003 and the finals were played in Carrington, Manchester.
East Bengal FC U15 team coached by Swarup Das, participated in the Indian regional rounds where they defeated Mohun Bagan by 2-0 in the Semi Final and in the final the Red and Gold colts defeated Mahindra United by 1-0 courtesy of a solitary free kick strike from Biswajit Natta. The East Bengal U15 became regional champions and qualified for the South East Asian Regional Finals to be held in Singapore.
The team went to Singapore where they did exceptionally well, defeated the Hong Kong U15 side by a solitary goal scored by Ajoy Roy and reached the final of the tournament. The team lost in the final against Assumption College of Thailand by a single goal. However, they were qualified among the top 20 teams from all over the world for the World Finals to be held in Manchester United’s Carrington Ground.
East Bengal FC squad for the Finals:
Amit Shee, Abhishek Das, Pintu Dutta, Bhim Oraon, Subhas Sarkar, Rudra Dhar, Ganesh Dey, Bivash Sarkar, Biswajit Natta, Amit Chakraborty, Supravan Dhar, Pritam Lahiri, Rakesh Roy, Joydeb Chakraborty, Ajoy Roy and Budhiram Tudu.
Coaches: Swarup Das, Manojit Das
Managers: Birendra Kumar Saha, Prabir Dafadar
More than 9000 teams from all over the world participated in the qualification rounds and only 20 teams reached the World Finals, which included heavyweight teams like FC Barcelona, Manchester United, AS Roma, Sao Paulo FC, Everton FC, FC Basel etc.
Sao Paulo team with likes of Casemiro and Lucas Moura
East Bengal FC were grouped in Group C along with Manchester United, AS Roma, Shandong Luneng from China and Austria Wein. The tournament would continue for four days with the final being played at the famous Old Trafford Stadium of Manchester United.
Jesse Lingard – sitting second from left
East Bengal FC started their campaign against hosts Manchester United, with the likes of current star Jesse Lingard in the team. The game was a complete mismatch between the two teams as the hosts completely routed the Red and Gold colts by 5-0, with Rory Gorman scoring a hat-trick while Sean Geddes and Jason Lampkin scoring the other two.
Manchester United lineup against East Bengal:
Damien Eastham, Nicholas Jackson, Thomas Thorpe, David Mellor, Ezekiel Fryers, Ravel Morrison, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Sean Geddes, Jason Lampkin, Jesse Lingard and Rory Gorman.
East Bengal FC team met Shandong Luneng of China in the second match of the day and were once again defeated by 3-0. Coach Swarup Das expressed his views after the game, “whatever we planned and practiced did not reflect on the field. The boys are not able to play their natural game. I think they got overwhelmed by the occasion.”
The Red and Gold brigade had to face AS Roma and Austria Wein the next day in the remaining two matches of the group. However in both the matches, the team lost 2-0 and finished in the bottom of the group without scoring a single point.
The Red and Gold brigade were to play in the 17-20th place playoffs on the third day and finally got the first win from the campaign when they defeated Bukit Jalil of Malaysia by 3-1 with goals from Suprovan in just the 4th minute of the game and Ajoy Roy scoring a brace.
The win ensured they would go home bettering the record set by arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the previous edition in 2006 where they lost all their matches and finished last among the 20 teams.
East Bengal FC U15 team faced Central United of New Zealand in the 17/18th place playoffs in the last game of the campaign and after the game ended goalless in the regulation time, the Kiwis won the game 5-3 via penalties, and East Bengal FC finished 18th in the tournament.
FC Barcelona became the Champions of the tournament defeating Sao Paulo of Brazil by a single goal in the final, lifting their second title.
In the closing ceremony, Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton surprisingly praised the efforts by the East Bengal FC U15 team.
He quoted, “This time the team from India did little better than the team we saw last year. I know short stature and frail physique are major handicaps for them but it was still good to see them come and compete at this level and do actually better. What struck me was their stomach for fight which was astounding. It was really impressive to see how eager they were for a fight.”
The East Bengal FC U15 team would have certainly cherish the experience they had in the tournament against the top teams around the world. The Red and Gold brigade would never again qualify for the main stages however, their 18th place finish is still the highest ever achieved by an Indian team in the tournament. Salgaocar FC and Shillong Lajong too qualified in 2009 and 2010 respectively but both of them finished last like Mohun Bagan did in 2006.