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Home Football ISL: Should East Bengal sign former Barcelona attacker Ibrahim Afellay?

ISL: Should East Bengal sign former Barcelona attacker Ibrahim Afellay?

With East Bengal FC’s entry into this year’s Indian Super League (ISL) more or less confirmed, the club has started eyeing big names in world football. Here we take a look at Ibrahim Afellay, who is reportedly going to be their Marquee player for the upcoming season.

East Bengal target and former PSV, Barcelona and Stoke City attacking midfielder Ibrahim Afellay is looking for one final flourish in a competitive, albeit at a slightly lower league, before hanging up his boots for good. The 34-year-old, who is now a free agent after being released by PSV Eindhoven, recently said in an interview that he wants to play for a club that has a ‘positive view’ of the game, even if it is in a country outside Europe.

Once hailed as a prodigious talent meant for great things, Afellay’s career never quite reached the heights it initially promised. Marred by a number of serious injuries over a career spanning 15 years, the Dutch international returned to PSV in 2019 after nine years but managed a meagre 4 appearances in all competitions last term. However, after leaving the club by mutual consent in May, the player is looking to sign off on his professional career in a ‘beautiful country with a good quality of life’.

afellay
Afellay’s career never quite reached the heights it initially promised (Source: Proven Quality)

This comes as a shot in the arm for East Bengal who are looking for a high-profile Marquee signing after all but securing their entry into next season’s Indian Super League (ISL). With 55 goals and 36 assists in over 350 career appearances and the experience of playing in the English, Spanish, German and Dutch top divisions, signing Afellay could turn out to be a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Does Afellay qualify as a Marquee player?

A potential roadblock in this deal coming to fruition is the fact that the ISL defines a ‘Marquee’ player as someone who has played a minimum of 75 matches in the top 5 European leagues while representing a major club(s), major being the key word in this case.

While he fulfils the other two criteria of having featured in the UEFA Champions’ League and/or Europa League at club level and the World Cup and/or Euros for his country, his stints at Stoke City in the Premier League and Schalke in the Bundesliga may not be taken into consideration based on their stature in the respective leagues.

The ambiguity surrounding what constitutes a ‘major’ European club in the eyes of the ISL is therefore something that East Bengal would be seeking greater clarity on if they want to go ahead and get him on board. Furthermore, the ISL rulebook also states that a Marquee player has to have a ‘marketable presence’ in India which would be assessed at the discretion of the league. Whether he qualifies in that regard is also something that is up in the air at the moment.

Another caveat in this slightly complicated scenario is that even if he does not qualify as a Marquee signing, he can still be roped in as one of the 5-7 international players in the squad, owing to his relatively affordable wages (reportedly £3100 per week) at PSV which East Bengal should be able to afford given they have Shree Cement Ltd.’s backing now . Although some would argue that in that case, they will be getting an injury prone 34-year-old on their books who may not be quite up to the mark.

Whichever direction this saga moves in from hereon, it will be interesting to see how East Bengal navigates through this situation. Whether they stick with him or train their sights on someone else, it promises to be an intriguing campaign for the red and gold fans for whom there is definitely some light at the end of this tunnel now that the club is actively looking to rebuild a beleaguered side at the threshold of a new dawn.

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