Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Caught between I-League and ISL, East Bengal faces the burden of a century


KOLKATA, August 2: There were a 300-odd people – wearing team jerseys and holding club flags – at the East Bengal tent on Saturday but their mood was distinctly subdued, dampened further by a sudden spell of downpour.
In the ongoing world of pandemic where social distancing is the new normal and any gathering is met with an apprehension, the red-and-golds true blues showed signs of a different worry on the club’s historic foundation day.
Will East Bengal stay in I-League or make the ISL cut, following in archrivals Mohun Bagan’s footsteps? Has the dispensation managed to find a new investor to bail it out of this crisis? These questions reverberated in every nook and cranny of the club tent as East Bengal hit a ‘century’, looking back to a glorious past but staring at an uncertain future.
From Subhas Bhowmik and Manoranjan Bhattacharya to Bhaskar Ganguly and Tarun Dey, the call was unanimous that I-League, and not ISL, should be the club’s preferred destination in this pandemic time.
“Just like the world is fighting against Covid-19, East Bengal club is fighting against its own destiny. We can’t go against our destiny. If East Bengal are destined to play in I-League in this extraordinary time, so be it. The ISL can wait for them,” Bhowmick, a former East Bengal player and the club’s most successful coach this century, told the gathering.
Former India goalkeeper Ganguly echoed the sentiment. “In an ideal situation, the club should try to play in ISL next season as I-League champions. That should be the target,” he said.
However, the duo’s point of view seems to be in contrast with the neo-millennials present in the audience, who wants East Bengal to be in the country’s top league this season itself – especially after Bagan’s entry in ISL via a merger with ATK.
Although the club claims to be in negotiation with a few potential investors following the separation with Quess Corp in May, the red-and-golds’ destination in the upcoming season is still shrouded into uncertainty. The current dispensation is understood to have sought more time from ISL organisers FSDL, but calls for a change in guard in the club administration are gathering steam on various social media platforms.
Perhaps sensing this mood, senior club official Debabrata Sarkar tried to put things in perspective, saying they are yet to give up hope on making the ISL grade.
“You can’t find an investor on Facebook. This pandemic has restricted our movements and, as a result, we could not meet with potential investors face to face. I’m not against a change in administration and it will be decided by the members. But I can assure them that the process (of finding a new investor) is on and we are still on track as far as our target of playing in the ISL is concerned,” Sarkar said.
East Bengal on Saturday completed a well-deserved century against the odds. But odds are also heavily stacked against them as they go about hitting a new season. As Manoranjan later pointed out: “East Bengal represent a fight. Hopefully, the club will be able to fight this crisis out too.” (TNN)