With arch-rivals Mohun Bagan already set to play in the Indian Super League, after merging with ATK, India awaits to see how East Bengal reacts to it. However, the ‘red and gold’ brigade are preoccupied with a lot of internal mishaps, which is why they should not rush to play in the top-tier league.
East Bengal, one of the oldest clubs in India, on the brink of celebrating its centenary are stuck in a situation that could define their future for the next few years. The news that broke out in January this year was historic, with their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan merging with ATK to secure a passage to the top tier league of the country - the Indian Super League. As far as the fierce rivalry is concerned between the two clubs, it was a bitter pill to swallow for the red and gold followers, with their foes eyeing a debut in the glamorous league. East Bengal needed investors to pump money for their entry into the Indian Super League, but they've struggled to find one despite numerous attempts.
The clubs have been involved in neck-to-neck battles, always intimated to take a step forward than their adversaries, but this time the situation is different. East Bengal are without a sponsor at the moment, having parted ways with its former investors Quess Corp. Pvt Ltd earlier this year. The Red and Gold brigade has been at the forefront of anything happening in Indian football, always; with the history books speaking for themselves. But, this situation is unlike anything the club has faced in the past, which is why they should not be in a rush to play in the Indian Super League.
Announcing a deal with a leading corporate outfit in a plush Kolkata hotel, approximately two years ago, everything was rosy in the East Bengal camp. Quess Corp. Pvt Ltd brought in a breath of fresh air with them, along with the financial backing as per the norm. Professionalism oozing out, big-money signings in place, fans were overjoyed and the changes reflected in their performances soon. It was only by a marginal distance that the club failed to lay hands on the coveted I-League during the 2018-19 seasons, but they had their blueprint for success ready while Spanish manager Alejandro Menendez Perez was signed for a second year, along with the core of the squad.
It has been 16 years since East Bengal lifted a national league title, fans were already triggered, but they were starting to become impatient. Yet, there was a bigger problem brewing in the background. A potential crack in the management was observed, which could spread fast if not healed rapidly and it eventually broke apart. The dysfunctional management could not escape the fallout with the East Bengal officials taking the most of the blame. Differences of opinions, officials sticking their noses into team affairs without any need, and a slump in the team’s performance, all had a snowball effect. Quess even accused the East Bengal officials of being ‘unprofessional’ and ‘insecure’, rubbing salt into their wounds. But, that’s not the worst part, as there was more to follow.
In the midst of a cat and mouse battle between both the parties, it was the players who took the maximum beating. Already distressed by the global lockdown because of the Covid-19 outbreak, everyone saw their financial conditions swaying, with many players stranded in Kolkata. It was then; the Bangalore-based company terminated the contracts of all its players citing ‘force majeure’. If that was harsh, the players had more to endure - with the out stationed players being asked to vacate their apartments, during a pandemic, in the middle of a lockdown. That seemed to be the final straw and on May 31, 2020 both parties scripted an abrupt end on the two-year partnership.
Even after the separation, the problem has been never-ending for the Kolkata-based club, with the footballing rights still vested with the former entity - Quess East Bengal. Legal paperwork for change of hands is still under process, with a further delay set to have grave consequences. For starters, they could face the humiliation of not being able to field a side in the Calcutta Football League, forget about playing in the Indian Super League. The AIFF has given them an ultimatum until May to complete the paperwork for licensing purposes for their potential entry into the Indian Super League, but the coronavirus pandemic has seen the apex body extend the deadline.
But East Bengal have bigger problems as they're yet to rope in an investor, and the pandemic has been very harmful for business, with no matches in sight so far. Even if the football season does gets underway and the Calcutta Football League kicks-off, the matches would be played in front of empty stands. As per the recent developments, the club is looking into the prospects of venturing outside its traditional boundaries and investing in other business opportunities, following the footsteps of many European clubs. In another incident, the West Bengal government has stated that it is also making efforts to find the club a potential sponsor so they can play in the Indian Super League soon.
All things point towards one thing - East Bengal are not a properly functioning unit and they are not financially stable at the moment. Solving the nitty-gritty’s at the base is of utmost importance to build a strong pillar, which should be the aim of the prestigious club right now. Rushing into a bigger race that works solely on financial powers is not a wise decision. Unprepared entry to the top-tier league can cause a big humiliation for the club if they fail to hit the right notes. Instead, the club should try and take small footsteps, try and restore normalcy in a world after Quess, rope in an investor, even play a season in the I-League, and then plan on making inroads into the ISL with a sponsor - with both parties on the same page.