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Is there light at the end of the tunnel for East Bengal FC?

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for East Bengal FC?

Abhranil Roy

Published: 28 Jan 2020 6:37 AM GMT

Indian football has seen several big-money announcements of late but the ATK-Mohun Bagan merger arguably has the most far-seeded effect amongst the lot. In a landmark deal that has been in the talks for over a year, RPSG, the owners of the Indian Super League (ISL) outfit ATK announced that they had acquired 80% stake in Mohun Bagan and that the two entities would be merged to create a new club that would compete in the ISL from next season onward.

Kolkata, being the football-obsessed city that it is obviously has been wondering ever since if Mohun Bagan has been, for most intent and purposes “sold its soul” to a corporate overlord how much longer could their arch-rivals, East Bengal resist?

Interestingly, the Sanjiv-Goenka led RPSG had reportedly first approached the Red and Golds for a potential merger but they were shot down right away. Even recently, Debabrata Sarkar vehemently denied that they would not consider any offer that would be “less than 50:50”, in an interview to The Telegraph. This leads to an interesting conundrum for the club and its fans alike because as much as they have been integral to the fabric of Indian football, there are colossal changes sweeping through the sport and they need to figure out a way to be a part of it, if not lead the changes.

Why do East Bengal officials and fans do not want a merger-like deal?

Interestingly, both the Red and Gold officials and the fans do not prefer a merger-like deal but for different reasons. For the officials, their experience with surrendering a 70% stake to Quess Corp has not worked out well. The Bangalore-based tech giant had certain plans and wanted to work in a certain manner that did not sit well with those in charge of the club for decades. As such, Quess is almost certain to relinquish their shares at the end of the season and the administrators now have the colossal task of figuring out how to ensure the club continues to thrive in the national scenario.

As mentioned before, they are looking for a “50-50” partnership but it is hard to imagine major players backing this move given the poor track record and numerous counts of allegations levelled at the “traditional officials” who have been running the Kolkata giants for a while. Underhanded politics and mud-slinging has been a long-running problem in the Kolkata Maidan and it is hard to imagine any savvy investors being down for it especially given how poorly the Quess deal has played out over the last year and a half.

East Bengal fans (Image: AIFF Media)

The fans, on the other hand, are more concerned about the “soul of the club” and fear any inherent change in structure could lead to them to not being able to identify with their favourite club anymore. It is the exact same crisis that many Mohun Bagan fans are currently undergoing at this moment, with many fearing that major changes might be made to the club's logo/colours/crest. It is a somewhat similar situation for most East Bengal fans as well, with them also fearing that entry into the cash-rich ISL would make the club inaccessible to those of a lower-income but equally, if not more passionate level due to increase in ticket prices or club merchandise.

So what are the options that East Bengal have?

Well, East Bengal has to figure out a way to play in the ISL sooner rather than later as it has already been granted the “top league’ status in India and will have AFC Champions League spots from 2021 onwards. As of now, they have 3 options:

  1. To find a sponsor or an investor who is willing to do a partnership deal with the club board.
  2. To merge with another ISL outfit, maybe NorthEast United FC or Odisha FC.
  3. To continue playing in the I-League, the second division from the 2020-21 season.

As mentioned before, it is unlikely that the third option will be in consideration at all given the impetus to play in the ISL. Moreover, it is to be noted that one of the key selling points of the ISL will be the Kolkata Derby and it is likely that the FSDL will not want to miss out on an opportunity to cash in on the mythical Derby so it is likely that there is light at the end of the tunnel for East Bengal, sooner rather than later. Let’s wait and watch what happens!

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