How Carles Cuadrat ended East Bengal's 12-year wait for a national trophy

East Bengal FC head coach Carles Caudrat celebrates with the Super Cup trophy. Special Arrangement

"After 12 years, everybody had a necessity to live that kind of moment. I have to say it was more emotional than any other celebrations I have lived in my life."

If a man who has been part of title celebrations with FC Barcelona and Galatasaray says a trophy celebration at East Bengal was bigger than any other he has seen, then you know the magnitude of the achievement.

Carles Cuadrat's name in maidan folklore is now guaranteed. After guiding Bengaluru FC to their first Indian Super League (ISL) title back in 2019, the Spaniard has now broken a 12-year national trophy drought for one of India's most storied clubs, as he won the Super Cup title with the Kolkata giants.

In the final, the dream was close to being shattered again, with Odisha equalizing in the 97th minute after East Bengal had overturned a 1-0 deficit to lead 2-1 through goals from Nandhakumar Sekar and Saul Crespo.

"To make the win even more heroic, Odisha scored a penalty in the 97th minute. Football is the kind of game that makes impossible things happen," Cuadrat told ESPN.

That 'impossible thing' happened midway through the second period of extra-time as Cleiton Silva scored the winner for East Bengal to win the Super Cup, and with it, a spot in next season's AFC Champions League 2, Asia's second biggest club competition.

Be it communicating to Lalchungnunga and Naorem Mahesh Singh that they would have to come on as second half substitutes, or sensing some discontent in his ranks to bring off PV Vishnu 20 minutes after he had substituted him on, Cuadrat won his team the final with clear thinking and decisive actions at the right times.

Also Read: East Bengal, champions again, complete metamorphosis under Cuadrat to end 12 years of pain

Cuadrat went into that final with positivity. He didn't believe it was impossible at all. He believed it was a game that East Bengal could win. He was wary of the big moments which flip games either side on the big occasions, but he felt that leading up to the final, circumstances favoured his team, even though Odisha were heading into it with a 15-match unbeaten streak.

Cuadrat said that right from his first day at the club, he understood the importance of keeping the environment positive, of ensuring as less negative impact on his players as possible from external sources, of which there has traditionally been no shortage in Kolkata, given the stature of East Bengal.

"It was very very difficult," he said. "It's about two things. You have to communicate positively, you have to go for positive messaging, but you have to give results, because this is a big club."

"It was important for us to start well, important to win a very difficult group in Durand Cup, and winning the first boro match (Durand Cup derby win over Mohun Bagan Super Giant) of the season. It gives positive energy to the environment, to the journalists, to the people around. And then we built from there," the Spaniard said.

He might be a Barcelona man through and through, but in football terms, he isn't. He says he's a fan of Diego Simeone's way of understanding the game. He's a complete football geek, he points to Bayer Leverkusen and Girona this season, as styles of play that he's a fan of. But he knew that with the set of players available to him, he couldn't stick to the same methods that he used in his last stint in the ISL, with Bengaluru FC. Even then, he had shown that he was nothing if not adaptable.

"We knew it was very different to the Bengaluru side, with Miku, Sunil [Chhetri], Dimas [Delgado], Erik [Paartalu], Juanan. Now we as a team had to build from a different situation. Being defensively compact, taking advantage of counter attacks, using the pace of Nandha and Mahesh. The players understood the ideas, they have been competing very well throughout the season," he said.

Cuadrat knows, though, that this trophy isn't the endgame. It is just the beginning of a journey. The expectations are bigger. "We are celebrating a trophy after 12 years, but at the same time in social media, I see a lot of critics saying that we are not using the transfer window well," he joked.

Cuadrat has been in India long enough to know the pressures that come with the territory at East Bengal. For now, he's relishing it. He has a simple message to the supporters. "We are professionals, we are doing our jobs, we are building a project for the next year and a half. So just be patient, be calm and trust in the people behind the scenes," he said.

By professionally doing their jobs this season, the East Bengal hierarchy and Cuadrat have brought home a big trophy. But there's still half a season to play in the ISL, where they could yet be in with a shout for the playoffs. Two wins from 10 isn't good enough. Cuadrat knows that, but he also knew that a final where his team went in as rank underdogs would favour his own side. Here's a man who seems to have got a grasp on what he's doing as he goes about transforming one of India's oldest football clubs. Who would bet against them celebrating again, come April?