Morgan invigorating Indian giants
“My lifestyle in Australia was fantastic,” Trevor Morgan, a London-born football coach who went Down Under in 1997, enthused romantically to FIFA.com. “It was basically like being on holiday. I did everything I wanted: I went to the beach, played golf and went for long walks.”
Why, then, did the 54-year-old, who spent the majority of his playing career as a forward in England’s lower leagues, elect to leave behind that ambrosial lifestyle and his family to assume the reins of collapsed Indian giants East Bengal - and a job that’s pressure was as gross as its prospects were seemingly gaunt - last July?
“I didn’t really know anything about Indian football, and moving here was a gamble," Morgan said. "I learned that East Bengal had their troubles and that despite that, their fans always demanded success. But I saw it as an opportunity.
“When I got here it was a real eye-opener. You have wealth and poverty living next door to each other, and the poor are really poor. My work has taken me to Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji and Malaysia, but India’s really different. I miss my wife and kids, and my new-born grandson who I haven’t seen for eight or nine months. It’s about a five-hour drive to the nearest beach, and a really miss a good steak.”
But while Morgan may be struggling socially, he’s thriving professionally. In January he guided the Red and Gold Brigade to Federation Cup glory and with the 2010/11 I-League at its halfway point, the Torch occupy its summit, unbeaten, three points clear of second-placed Salgaocar, with Churchill Brothers a further two points back in third. Not bad for a team who had emphatically underperformed since the foundation of the competition in 2007, survived relegation by a mere four points last season, and were expected to engage in a relegation battle rather than a title fight.
“I honestly didn’t think we’d be challenging for the I-League title,” Morgan admitted. “But I quickly saw that we had decent players. Nearly all the teams here play a rigid 4-4-2, but I decided to use a 4-3-3 system. I put players in positions where I’d get the maximum from them, not necessarily where they wanted to play, but they’ve got to understand their roles and have become better players.
“There are four or five teams who could win the title, and we’re one of them. We’ve got to keep doing all the things we’ve been doing. We’ve been keeping it tight at the back, and we also have players who can win us matches.”
One of those is 24-year-old Australian forward Tolgay Ozbey, who has hit nine goals, all from open play, this term. “It was a massive change in lifestyle, culture, but fortunately he’s settled in really well,” said Morgan. I think it’s helped him that I’ve come over from Australia, and Robin Singh, who’s another really good player, has helped him settle in. We’ve had six 1-0 wins this season and Tolgay’s scored in five of them – that’s 15 points he’s got us and the fans have really taken to him”
Those supporters have made a grand impression on the West Ham United supporter: “Calcutta's a massive place for football – it’s without doubt the place to be in India. There’s cameras everywhere, so many pressers and tv stations. I coached the reserves for Hull City a couple of years ago, and the media coverage here is on a par with the Premier League. Fans are absolutely crazy for football.
“We were getting 15 to 20,000 for home games at the start of the season, but now we’re averaging 35 to 40,000. We had over 100,000 for the derby against Mohun Bagan. There were even thousands of fans at the airport when we returned after winning the Federation Cup. They lay at your feet, touch your feet as a mark of respect. The fans live for football.”
And while the East Bengal enthusiasts are currently riding a wave of optimism, so too are national team followers after India recently participated at the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in 26 years.
“It was a great achievement for India to qualify for the Asian Cup, but it caused expectations to rocket,” said Morgan. “They were placed in a very tough group with Australia, South Korea and Bahrain – that’s two teams who qualified for the  World Cup and one that just missed out – and people are complaining that they lost all three matches. I think you’ve got to be realistic. Indian football’s improving but you can’t challenge the top teams overnight.”
That said, Morgan would not be too surprised too see the Bhangra Boys in the FIFA World Cup™ in the not-too-distant future. “India have got a long, long way to go, but who knows?” he said. "Thirty years ago who would have thought Japan and South Korea would have been performing so well at World Cups? Sometimes things just kick off. There’s big money in India, a lot of which is invested in cricket, but if some of it gets invested in football and Indian football keeps on progressing the way it has been, they’ll get their rewards.”
So, would Morgan be interested in assuming the challenge of leading India into the FIFA World Cup in the future? “I don’t like to talk about a job that’s in somebody else’s hands, and I’m happy at East Bengal and focusing on winning trophies here. But I believe that in any profession you should look to better yourself, so if the position became available in the future, I’d be very interested.”
Masterminding an improbable I-League conquest this year would certainly enhance Morgan's chances of landing the post.