After squandering away chances of getting big financers over the issue of ‘independence’, the East Bengal club is staring at a bleak future. If the present officials cannot solve their problem with the investor Shree Cement in two to three days, the club may fail to get a license from Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and may not be seen on the ground in the next season. All India Football Federation has alerted all the clubs that to get an AFC license all the related documents should be sent to it latest by 31st July.
The officials of East Bengal club, who have failed to make the club financially solvent, once again are seeking to protect ‘independence’ of the club, and have locked horns with the investor by not agreeing to accept the terms and conditions of the cement and power-producing company owned by the Kolkata-based Bangur family. The independence being demanded simply boils down to the officials having the prerogative of running the club. No investor gives such freedom, and Shree Cement is no exception.
So the club management is not ready to endorse the ‘term sheet agreement’ it signed with Shree Cement, handing over 76 percent ownership of the club to the company. In the corporate world, refusal to sign a term sheet agreement after a legitimate sale is blasphemous. But the club officials do not care about it. If the agreement is not signed in two to three days, it will be impossible for the club to submit documents to the AIFF by the weekend.
A few days ago the supporters of the club clashed among them with one side supporting the club officials and the other the corporate investor. Now, a last ditch attempt for truce between the officials of the club and Shree Cement is being made by veteran players of the club.
According to the officials of Shree Cement, it has already invested Rs 55 crore for the first season and has got nothing in return. That was however not the fault of the officials. It happened because Indian Super League (ISL) matches were played sans the spectators due to the COVID-19 situation. Had it been a normal situation, the owners could have gathered Rs 10 crore through ticket sales from 10 home matches. For the records, East Bengal played the ISL for the first time last year.
The club management is not disclosing on what point disagreement between the investor and them have come to this passé. But according to sources, Shree cement is determined to take control of the club management. It means the present officials will have to leave. As they are not prepared to do that, they are planning to raise money by crowdfunding.
But raising more than a hundred crores (the expenditure for next year and the money Shree Cement has invested) by crowdfunding is a distant dream. So, whether the red and yellow jersey of more than a century-old club will flash on the ground next season is an open question now.
(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)