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East Bengal's ISL hopes are stuck in a catch-22 situation

A RACE AGAINST THE CLOCK is what East Bengal officials signed up for when they attempted to get into the Indian Super League this season.

With the process of getting their sporting rights back from their former investors Quess dragging on till mid-July, the East Bengal officials were looking at a two week deadline to sign a new investor, complete the legal paperwork, produce the bank guarantee and convince FSDL to open up the bidding process to enter the ISL.

Logistically it was difficult to say the least but the officials did make some early headway. Prasun Mukhopadhyay, a businessman from Indonesia, was interested in investing. A couple of other avenues were also explored; from talking to certain other potential investors to seeking West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's help to get co-sponsors to raise funds.

The process would have likely played out much better had it not been up against such a strict deadline. Universal Success Enterprise, the group headed by Mr Mukhopadhyay, wanted 80% shares of the football team and an investor prefix; basically a similar structure to the deal that's been recently struck between the Red and Golds' rival club Mohun Bagan and KGSPL. The company also wanted a written statement from Football Sports Development Limited - the ISL organizers - that producing the requisite bank guarantee would ensure that East Bengal could enter the ISL in the 2020-21 season itself.

While none of these demands would be unreasonable in more normal times, it created a catch-22 situation for East Bengal in this case. To iron things out, EB needed more time. For that to happen they needed to produce the bank guarantee and everything else needed to pursuade FSDL to postpone the ISL pre-season process and open the bids. But the investors wanted FSDL's assurance before committing that much mone, and East Bengal officials got caught in the middle.

To emphasize on the urgency of the situation, officials sent a last minute letter to FSDL asking for more time. But so far FSDL don't seem to want to delay things any longer.

The venue for the ISL 2020-21 season will be decided by August 7th, and colours for the teams decided by 10th August. While it's not the biggest deal to delay all that in order to issue an invitation for bids, FSDL aren't willing to bet on East Bengal getting everything in order on short notice; especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perhaps sensing the chances of playing in ISL this season slipping away, the East Bengal officials put on an effort to spin the issue. On the anniversary of the Red and Golds' triumph at the Asean Football Championship in 2003, members of that team wrote a letter to the club management; telling them not to focus on getting into ISL and instead focus on coronavirus. It's unclear in what way East Bengal may change their focus from playing sports to combating the pandemic, but it's widely believed that this will help the club officials justify their current situation to their fans who have been demanding they should enter ISL along with their arch rivals Mohun Bagan.

As far as FSDL and AIFF are concerned, the operative presumption is that ISL will go ahead with 10 teams, and there will be no need for an invitation for bids to be issued. Whether East Bengal officials can still produce a miracle turnaround within the next ten days remains to be seen.

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