EAST BENGAL, OF ALL PEOPLE, have ended up at the forefront of the activities around ISL bids and the efforts to get the I-League big three clubs to get on board with IMG-Reliance's plan for restructuring Indian football.
Yesterday East Bengal officials picked up the ISL bid document after being directed by their chief sponsors Kingfisher-Heineken to do so. Today, as the club officials review the terms and conditions mentioned in the document, a couple of club representatives have reached Bengaluru to meet some of Heineken's high ranking officials to discuss a re-negotiated sponsorship contract.
The Red and Golds' existing sponsorship deal with Kingfisher is worth Rs 8.5 crore per year. The renegotiated deal with ISL in mind can be up to Rs 25 crore, the biggest sponsorship deal in the history of Indian football yet.
Two meetings within the club, involving the Core Committee and the Executive Committee, will take place by tomorrow. The club is considering the formation of two vastly different squads; one for the Calcutta Football League set to take place early in the season and one for ISL that will kick start around November.
The club officials have been in touch with Mohun Bagan officials, who after having a discussion about the ISL bid document with them as well as some Bengaluru FC officials at the sidelines of the MB vs BFC match in AFC Cup, have reportedly decided to go ahead and picked up the bid documents themselves.
The Mariners are in the middle of negotiations with the Tata Group who are likely to come on board as principal sponsors of the club. The sponsorship amount is likely to be equivalent to the Kingfisher (Heineken) - East Bengal deal.
Both the clubs will likely wait until 23rd May to submit their bid documents. On 22nd May the two clubs' representatives will hold a meeting with AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das. The two main points to be discussed are the franchise fee and the home ground issue. Both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan wish to have AIFF's back as they try to find a loophole to Atletico de Kolkata's temporary exclusivity over the city and play their ISL home matches as usual out of the Salt Lake Stadium. While TFG reported yesterday that this may require the help of the Bengal chief minister, a formula for how to go about it can be worked out in that meeting.
On the 24th, the bidding process will come to an end. On 25th, AFC General Secretary Dato Windsor will come to India. The announcement of new teams - and perhaps the cannonization of ISL as the new top division league - will likely happen on the 26th of May.
Now with the I-League big three clubs East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC very much in the mix and likely to fill the 3 slots originally mentioned in ISL's Invitation to Bid notice, speculation is abuzz that IMG-Reliance are considering the inclusion of a fourth team from this bidding process. This was fuelled by top Reliance official Dhanraj Nathwani's tweet claiming there would be "four more teams in the 4th edition", which he subsequently deleted.
The rumour mill had hinted at a franchse from Gujarat by the Adani Group, but that may not happen in 2017-18 after all. Some new developments now point the nail to a different part of the country altogether.
While this remains unconfirmed at this point, but Aizawl FC may be getting ready to pick up an ISL bid. Rumours suggest they are in talks with a large corporation who would step in as the new principal sponsor.
This development is not very unlikely given the amount of attention Aizawl's fairytale rise has garnered and the huge popularity they have in Mizoram. The club also holds the unique position of being the only Indian team who will feature in the AFC Champions League qualifiers next season. The Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, their home ground, is being renovated by the Mizoram Stage Government, and will have new stands, floodlights and a better just in time for the November deadline Aizawl FC face to secure an AFC club license.
Let us stress again: this is still unconfirmed. But if Aizawl FC do end up making a bid for an ISL spot (possibly out of another city and change the home venue to Aizawl subsequently, a tactic Mohun Bagan and East Bengal may also adopt) it will make for a better ending to the restructuring of the Indian league system than most fans had hoped for; and truly establish ISL as the undisputed top division league where the best clubs from every part of the country are given a place, whatever conditions their entry may be under.
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