SC East Bengal will continue to play in the Indian Super League (ISL), chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced at a news conference at Nabanna — the state secretariat — on Wednesday in the presence of representatives from investor Shree Cement and East Bengal club.
Also present was the chief minister’s brother, Ajit Banerjee, president of the Indian Football Association and a former executive committee member of East Bengal club.
“Khela hobe. I’m very happy today,” Mamata said. “All’s well that ends well. They had some uncertainty on whether they would be able to play in the ISL but now East Bengal’s problem is solved. Shree Cement has accepted my request (to extend the deal) with East Bengal and have accepted all my proposals.”
However, it was not clear whether the final agreement between Shree Cement and the club would be signed.
Senior club official Debabrata Sarkar said SC East Bengal would play in the ISL as per the “earlier deal” though he did not mention “term sheet or final agreement” even once. “The earlier deal can stay for ages. There is no problem in that. The club playing in the ISL is a huge boost. And all this happened due to Didi’s magic,” Sarkar said at the club tent.
Shree Cement too did not elaborate on the final agreement.
“We also want the khela (game) to happen. Due to certain reasons, we couldn’t sign the definitive agreement. We were trying for the past one year to make things work. However, since you (Mamata) have requested we will be participating in this year’s ISL,” Shree Cement representative, chief finance officer Subhash Jajoo, said.
After her outburst against the investor on Monday for saying they cannot continue with the deal, the chief minister appeared to have mellowed on Wednesday.
“East Bengal played the ISL last year owing to Shree Cement. This time things were a bit uncertain because of which I too became a bit hostile (on Monday). Where will the crores of East Bengal fans go, I thought, if they aren’t able to play? East Bengal have a brand value in world football. I had requested them (Shree Cement) and they agreed,” she said.
“I think East Bengal fans are happy now. Even Mohun Bagan (ATK Mohun Bagan feature in ISL) will be happy because they want their opponents to play. I had received so many calls, voicing their concern about East Bengal’s fate. So, everyone would be happy today,” Mamata added.
In September last year, Mamata had played the role of messiah to thousands of East Bengal fans by announcing Shree Cement as investor. That cleared the way for East Bengal to feature in the ISL.
Race against time
The real challenge now will be the team-building process as the transfer window closes on August 31. Former England striker Robbie Fowler would remain as the head coach though it’s not clear whether all his support staff would be retained. Indian assistant coach Rennedy Singh is expected to stay.
“If our investor wants any kind of help it can count on us,” East Bengal’s Sarkar said.