Mario Rivera was a crucial member of Alejandro Menendez’s coaching team which almost guided East Bengal to an I-League title in the 2018-19 season.
It was one of the finest performances of East Bengal in recent times as they garnered a lot of praise from all quarters even though they had missed out on winning the title by a whisker.
Just when it seemed that the club had finally found a recipe to success, things dramatically changed in the off season. Quite a few key members of that squad which includes players and coaching staff left the club after the 2018-19 season, Mario Rivera being one of them.
Speaking to Goal, the Spaniard revealed the exact reason why he did not rejoin Alejandro Menendez at East Bengal for the 2019-20 season.
“The reason is Alejandro (Menendez) did not want me to come back. He told me that if I wanted to continue, I had to accept worse conditions. Quess East Bengal wanted to give me much better condition but the coach didn’t want that. He didn’t say directly that ‘I don’t want you’ because he is not a person who will tell you directly. But he invited me outside and told me indirectly that I was not needed.”
Mario returned to the club as the head coach after his former boss had resigned from the manager’s role in January this year after a series of poor performances in the I-League.
When asked what were the changes he noticed in the team from the 2018-19 season, Rivera said, “If you look at the two teams from the two seasons, you will not find much difference in the squads. Not many changes were done. The only difference was the mood of the teams. The team from 2018-19 had a very good spirit even when we could not win the title in the final match of the season. But when I came this year, the mood of the team was very different.”
Rivera suggested that he enjoyed managing the club as the head coach this year and spoke about the initial challenges he had to face after Menendez’s resignation.
“My journey as the head coach of East Bengal was good overall. Of course, it started in a bad condition but after two months we were in a good position. Overall it was a good two months for me.”
Among the crucial players who left the club after the 2018-19 season were Mexican forward Enrique Esqueda and Costa Rica’s World Cupper defender Johnny Acosta. Reportedly, Menendez had issues with both the players and had even questioned their professionalism.
When Rivera was enquired about Menendez’s acquisition, he launched a scathing attack on his former boss and said, “I think Enrique Esqueda and Johnny Acosta are more professional than Alejandro. They are very professional. But the problem was that the fans loved these two players and the kind of persons they are. They were really popular among the fans and these things did not go down well with Alejandro. He wanted the focus and highlight only on him.
He also held Menendez responsible for star Indian players like Jobby Justin, Lalram Chullova and Laldanmawia Ralte leaving the club.
He said, “Regarding Indian players, it was our mistake. We knew that they had other offers but the coach delayed in negotiating and we lost Jobby (Justin), (Lalram) Chullova and Laldanmawia (Ralte). We lost some players due to delay of Alejandro only.”
The foreign players of the Red and Golds this season had gathered a lot of criticism which includes former Odisha FC/Delhi Dynamos defender Marti Crespi who was signed by the club on the former Real Madrid Castilla coach’s recommendation.
Crespi was released from the team during the January transfer window within a few days of Rivera joining the club. The East Bengal coach suggested that even though he held Crespi in high regards, he failed to understand why the Spaniard could not perform as per his standards.
“I think he had a special relation with Alejandro so when I came in, he did not focus properly. Marti is a very good player but he wasn’t concentrating and did not perform according to his level. He has a good level and has played in some very good teams. His mind was somewhere else, maybe because Alejandro had left. The rest of the foreigners did well after I reached. After that, we changed (Ansumana) Kromah due to disciplinary issues.”