IT SEEMS THE PRESSURE put on the I-League big three by IMG-Reliance is bearing fruit for them, as multiple clubs are now considering a to have a gander at the ISL.
A few days back, ISL issued an Invitation to Bid (ITB) notice for adding new teams to the tournament. TFG ran an article explaining how the ITB's language and choice of cities showed a clear intention towards reeling East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC as the 3 new teams in ISL, which would give them enough leverage to ask AFC to make ISL the official new top division league.
Within days it was reported that Bengaluru FC wanted to bid. Rumours also suggested that the Tata Group was pondering launching a new team from Jamshedpur or Ranchi.
But East Bengal and Mohun Bagan were staunchly adamant that they would not bid to enter ISL and remain with the I-League.
But the tacit pressure from IMG-Reliance, which gave rise to a unified voice from the clubs' fans to bid for ISL spots, soon gave way to turning tides.
A Bengali newspaper article today claimed that Heineken, who own Kingfisher which sponsors East Bengal, have asked the club to pick up an ISL bid document, and they would raise their sponsorship amount to more than Rs 20 crore per year. If true, then this will be the biggest sponsorship deal any football club has managed to bag in Indian football history.
Mohun Bagan, meanwhile, had the club officials divided over whether to pick up a bid or not. But after continuous fan pressure and some alleged backroom talks with IMG-R and more than one potential sponsors, they seem to be changing their minds as well. Club secretary Anjan Mitra, who a few days ago had flat out denied any possibility of the Mariners' applying for an ISL spot, told Bengali daily Aajkal that the situation was "not static" and they would arrive at a decision after further "talks", although he did not specify whether this was a conversation being had within the club or whether it involved outside commercial interests.
It is widely believed that these two arch rival clubs are working together in this issue, as the Kolkata Derby these clubs play against each other remains the single biggest attraction in Indian football, and allows them to have a lot of commercial leverage. So they are unlikely to choose to play in different leagues.
Bringing the 3 I-League clubs in question into the ISL and making it the new top division has been in IMG-Reliance's mind for a while but Aizawl FC's I-League triumph followed by threats of organized movement against forced relegation seemed to derail the plan. Now, if the latest developments are to be taken as a sign, the original plan seems to be coming back on.