East Bengal FC have acquired the services of the experienced Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Edwin Sydney Vanspaul and Mandar Rao Desai on free transfers, who have collectively played 337 Hero Indian Super League (ISL) matches. While Vanspaul joins the Red & Gold brigade on a two-year contract, Khabra and Mandar will be with the club till the end of the 2023-24 season.
Welcoming Mandar, Edwin and Khbara to the Emami East Bengal family, Mr Debabrata Mukherjee of Emami Group said, “Among the three of them, they have won every trophy that Indian football has to offer. Their quality, versatility, experience and winning mentality will add strength and depth to our squad.”
East Bengal Head Coach Carles Cuadrat explained how the trio’s vast experience will benefit his team. He said, “In Mandar we have an experienced player who has also captained his teams in the past and will add a lot of value to our team. Khabra is a very experienced player. More importantly, he is someone who knows the club and is loved by the fans. He was one of my captains at Bengaluru FC, and he’ll again be one of my captains at Emami East Bengal. Vanspaul’s greatest strength is his ability to play in multiple positions. He is an extremely passionate footballer who always goes that extra yard for his team.”
Left-back Mandar, who became the first player to make 100 Hero ISL appearances in 2020, hopes to play a pivotal role in the Red & Golds’ resurgence.
“It feels great to join East Bengal. It’s a new challenge for me and I want to contribute to the team in whatever capacity is required of me. Coach Carles is a fine tactician and wonderful human being. I am glad to get another opportunity of playing under him. I can’t wait to wear the Red & Gold jersey and help the team win,” said the 31-year-old Mandar who has won a Hero ISL Winners’ Shield with FC Goa, and two League Winners’ Shields and a Hero ISL title with Mumbai City FC.
35-year-old Khabra, meanwhile, returns to East Bengal after a seven-year hiatus. Known for his versatility in both defense and midfield, the TATA Football Academy graduate had a trophy-laden seven-year spell at East Bengal between 2009 and 2016.
The former East Bengal captain won two Federation Cups, one IFA Shield, one Indian Super Cup and seven consecutive CFL titles with the heritage club during the said period. In the Hero ISL, Khabra has played 128 matches, winning the title with Chennaiyin FC (2015) and Bengaluru FC (2018-19), and finishing runners-up with Kerala Blasters FC in 2021-22.
Speaking about his reunion with East Bengal, a nostalgic Khabra said, “I am incredibly excited to return home. This club has given me so much and here’s a chance for me to relive all of that! I can’t wait to give my 100% in front of our fans. I am especially looking forward to the derby, a game that always gave us an extra push in the past. There’s also a sense of excitement to be working with Coach Carles again, who has played a big role in making me a better player.”
Vanspaul, whose four-year stint with Chennaiyin FC ended last month, is all set to start a new chapter in his career with Emami East Bengal. The Tamil Nadu-born footballer was instrumental in Chennai City FC’s only Hero I-League triumph in 2018-19 before making his foray into the Hero ISL the following season. Vanspaul played a massive part in helping CFC finish runners-up in the 2019-20 Hero ISL, switching seamlessly from a full-back role to a midfield role. In 71 Hero ISL appearances so far, the 30-year-old has registered 1 goal, 3 assists, 1,811 passes, 101 interceptions and 97 clearances.
On joining Emami East Bengal, Vanspaul said, “We all know about Kolkata’s football heritage and legacy. So, for me, joining an iconic club like East Bengal is a huge deal. Whenever I’ve played against East Bengal in the past, I’ve always marveled at the club’s spectacular fan base. I want to be a part of this culture now. I can’t wait to play under Coach Carles and reunite with my good friend Nandha.”Speaking about his reunion with East Bengal, a nostalgic Khabra said, “I am incredibly excited to return home. This club has given me so much and here’s a chance for me to relive all of that! I can’t wait to give my 100% in front of our fans. I am especially looking forward to the derby, a game that always gave us an extra push in the past. There’s also a sense of excitement to be working with Coach Carles again, who has played a big role in making me a better player.”