India Indian Super League

East Bengal and their ISL predicament: A Football Tribe Exclusive

The Bangalore-based Quess Corp, who were East Bengal’s title sponsors, have already made an early exit and terminated all existing contracts by implementing ‘Force Majeure’ clause in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic
Lay your ears on Maidan’s blades of grass or the smooth asphalt of Leslie Cladius Sarani, the uncertainty and predicament lies bare bone. Like the unruly clouds over the Ganges, the deliberation among club officials is brewing with every passing day.

Post Quess’s departure, the uncertain and volatile economic situation triggered by the-pandemic slowdown will negatively impact the hunt to find a new investor in order to bring the necessary financial stronghold needed to gain entry into ISL. For the club, this needs to be a “bunny out of the hat” moment to have any realistic chance to play in the next edition of ISL.
Bypassing all the technicalities like collection and submission of the ISL-bid papers, franchisee fees, club licensing the other indications are not encouraging for the 100-year old club to play in the recently crowned top league in the country. Now typically when a club tries to mount a challenge, the vision and ambition are laid on the philosophy of a Coach who draws up a plan for the season that becomes the framework to build upon.

With the departure of Alejandro Menéndez last season post-derby-debacle and Mario Riviera took the reigns before the pandemic halted the season after 16 games, where the club amassed a mere 23 points with just 6 wins.
Though Mario Rivera has been vocal about his trust in the club officials retaining him, the lack of experience on the Spaniards resume in managing senior team squads remains a glaring shortcoming. To compete in a well-oiled league where teams like Bengaluru FC, ATK and FC Goa has managed to forge their style of play and philosophies, it remains to be seen if the Kolkata Giants can manage to stamp their authority on the national stage, having won the National League way back in 2003-04.
While the milestone moments like winning the 2003 ASEAN Club Championship, fade away from the minds of the largely new-age millennial fanbase, East Bengal is long due to winning country’s top crown owing to its ever-growing and humongous fan-base which only a handful of clubs in the country can boast of.
I-League has been elusive to the East Bengal coming, often titles being decided on the final matchday only leave the club in despair missing out by fine margins to the new boys in the league like Minerva FC and NEROCA FC in recent past.
In the present situation of uncertainty, not playing ISL next season and opting to play present-day second-tier I -League would no way guarantee that the club can win the jinxed silverware as teams like NEROCA, Round Glass Punjab FC or even Churchill Brothers would still mount a serious challenge, even in the absence of city rivals Mohun Bagan.

As per the recommendations of the AFC for the proposed Indian football roadmap, there’s a pathway for two I-League clubs’ entry into the ISL by the end of the 2020-21 season.

A closer look into their recruitment policy pattern doesn’t leave much to be encouraged for the fans.

Midfielder Sehnaj Singh, who has featured in eight matches for ATK in ISL 2019-20, and winger Bikash Jairu, who had an impressive showing with the Kolkata giant before making the switch to Jamshedpur FC in 2017. East Bengals also roped in midfielder Cavin Lobo from Punjab FC and had signed ATK forward Balwant Singh and Iranian winger Omid Singh.
Though all these signings look promising on paper, a closer magnification of the individual players isn’t much encouraging. National team forward, Balwant has managed just one goal in 116 minutes last season and a meagre 47% passing accuracy to show for. While Sehnaj clocked 8 matches for ATK, he was not the player he was a couple of years back. Mistimed tackles and a flurry of ill-directed passes is all he has to show for.
Former East Bengal winger Bikash Jairu is all set for homecoming but the Sikkimese winger in his 576 with Jamshedpur FC has no goals or assists to show for in his 9 games last season. These facts would leave any layman football fan perplexed on the nature of scouting plans and season ambitions that a legacy laced club like East Bengal is putting together. Due to the tricky footballing and league structure in the country, it is a common practice to build squads for the new season by scavenging fringe players from top ISL Clubs or headhunting above the crop players from bottom-placed I-league teams, mostly the North East based outfits like Aizawl FC, NEROCA and almost defunct Lajong FC.
Without the investor money to initiate the transfer of players who can make an impact, East Bengal is currently forced to pick from safe options in the market, old warhorses like Cavin Lobo, Bikash Jairu and Sehnaj Singh by leveraging personal relations between players and club officials. The Red and Gold, are shy to make any big-money move without the cushion of a financial wall to fall back upon
The club needs a top-down restructuring from the backline to the men up-front, and this would need serious money. East Bengal needs to leave behind the ghost of Marti Crespi and Mehtab Singh looking like vulnerable foot soldiers while defending against the state of the art war machines and build a team that can live up to the challenge.
East Bengal needs to find the best options in the market, someone like Buriram’s iconic Venezuelan centre-back Andres Tunez whose contributions during his seven-year-long stay at the Thai club has been invaluable. Someone who can provide rock of stability, establishing himself as a club leader and fan-favourite during the most successful period in the club’s history.
The problems, run deep for East Bengal as the squad structuring would need massive trimming of the run of the mill players and bringing in players who can play within a system and enforce the ideas on the pitch. Players with experience of playing in front of raucous crowds and can turn things around when the situation demands.

Time is running out for the club, and one can sense the anguish of the fans. The arrival and departure of a promising investor, not playing in Super Cup due to club official and investor conflict, questionable recruitment and below-par overseas player and midseason damage controls by plugging in Kromah to pacify fan reactions. All this Maidan-Esque idiosyncrasy needs to be done with.
So a back of the envelope calculations, suggests unlike their Kolkata rivals, East Bengal might be reluctant to jump on the ISL bandwagon this season which might be a good decision, taking things in perspective. The club as an entity needs itself to be aligned, be transparent to its fans and shelve the ego’s to chalk out a plan before breaking into the big league.
Since Mohun Bagan in association with ATK has already guaranteed themselves to play in ISL, the big-ticket rivals need to push towards the same for the ultimate showpiece in Indian football.

Though it looks difficult, in the present situation, such possibilities can never be discarded to see the age-old rivals locking horns in the same league when the prerogative and power rests with FSDL.
As some franchise in ISL continues to struggle with gate sales and deadpan stadium shows, the entry of East Bengal after Mohun Bagan will definitely load ammunition in ISL’s armoury. Throw in FSDL’s zeal to revitalize the league, a pragmatic Chief Minister of state doing few rounds of meetings, an investor with a bag full of money willing to roll the dice-Voila! East Bengal is there, playing the ISL.

So the as the drama lies to be unfolded ahead of us, the situation can be summed up perfectly through the words of  Daniel C. Thomas,” Life’s just a bunch of accidents, connected by one perfect end.”