It’s been over a month since chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced Emami as the new investors of East Bengal but a formal deal is yet to be signed, leading fans to wonder if the club would be able to put together a quality team in time for the ISL.
More so, when other teams, including their arch-rivals ATK Mohun Bagan, have been active during the ongoing transfer season. Bagan attracted worldwide attention when they signed up Florentin Pogba, the elder brother of France superstar Paul Pogba.
There have been whispers that Bengal’s business community is wary of dealing with East Bengal after what Shree Cement went through. But officials of East Bengal and Emami, who held a meeting on Wednesday and issued a joint statement, are optimistic.
“The officials of both Emami and East Bengal Club met today (Wednesday) for a discussion on the draft agreement. While most of the points were already cleared between both the parties, today’s meeting helped to clear the remaining points positively. The lawyers of both parties will now jointly prepare final draft of the agreement for execution as soon as possible. Both Emami and East Bengal Club will also make efforts to put together a good and strong team asap. Emami and East Bengal are happy to inform that everything is on the right track and will progress very fast,” the joint statement said.
If the deal does go through, Emami will be the third investor since 2018 after Quess Corp and Shree Cement, but fans will say it’s the same old story. An investor coming on board at the last moment, making a rag-tag squad with most of the good players already signed by other clubs, and then stutter, suffer and stumble on the field.
Quess Corp had come with a lot of hope but the two-year association had an acrimonious end. Shree Cement joined hands with the club in the presence of chief minister Mamata Banerjee but could not stay beyond two years. The bickering over the signing of the final agreement just refused to ebb and that had a direct impact on the performance of the football team. East Bengal finished ninth and last in ISL VII and VIII respectively.
Despite the club officials refusing to yield an inch to Shree Cement, the corporate house pumped in more than Rs 110 crore at a time when the economy was at a downswing. “An investment gone down the drain,” as one official put it.
Now that the Emami Group is set to ‘play with fire’, as one Maidan observer put it, it’s time the century-old club shed its ‘difficult-to-handle’ tag and embrace the fact that corporatisation of football is here to stay.
It’s not like those days when former liquor baron Vijay Mallya would pump in money on the Bhaichung Bhutias and Mike Okoros without thinking twice. “Having stayed in Calcutta during his early days, Mallya’s passion for football was immense. But now the officials will have to understand they cannot stay relevant by turning their back on corporatisation,” Amit Sen, former director of Kingfisher East Bengal Club, said.
During the Kingfisher days, when the football team enjoyed unprecedented success, the board used to have a 50:50 representation with Mallya having the casting vote. But now the situation is different. With the investor putting in money, they want, and justifiably so, complete control. The officials and former players, at best, can play an advisory role.
“That’s the norm across the world. An investor will not come just like that. Without having a say in important matters why will they continue? That’s what happened during Shree Cement’s days at East Bengal. They could not keep Robbie Fowler as coach because of the final agreement impasse,” said someone in the know of things.
The season gone by was abysmally bad for East Bengal on as well as off the field. Consistent lacklustre performances followed by regular ‘leaks’ of players’ dissension and then a transfer ban. The ban is likely to be revoked since Shree Cement has cleared salary dues of most of the 11 players.
But is everything bad with the club? “I do not agree. These officials give everything to the club. It’s their passion and the corporates will have to be sensitive in dealing with them,” someone who is with Indian club football for almost a decade said.