It's official. Riding a wave of emotions and last-ditch efforts, East Bengal on Sunday entered the ISL in the iconic club's centenary year, joining Indian football's significant other -- Mohun Bagan -- in the top tier. (More Football News)
Among others, the club's journey to the Indian Super League involved a serious intervention by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The latest announcement by Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) chairperson Nita Ambani came less than a month after Banerjee personally announced city-based Shree Cement as the club's major stakeholders following negotiations in the state secretariat.
"It is such a happy and proud moment for ISL as we welcome East Bengal FC and their millions of fans into the League," the FSDL supremo Ambani said in a statement.
FSDL runs the lucrative league.
The yet-to-be-christened consortium of East Bengal and Shree Cement, who holds a 76 per cent stake, becomes the 11th team to enter the ISL.
East Bengal thus followed in the footsteps of arch-rivals Mohun Bagan, who were the first to join the top-tier league this season, after merging with three-time defending champions ATK.
The announcement will pave the way for the FSDL to finalise the detailed fixtures of the event that is set to start in November.
Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the three-month long tournament will be played at three venues of Goa from the second-half of November.
In the current scenario, the matches will be closed-door affairs, but the inclusion of the Big Two of Indian football will still take the league to another level.
"The inclusion of both legacy clubs -- East Bengal and Mohun Bagan (now ATK Mohun Bagan) -- opens limitless possibilities for Indian football, especially for talent development in the state," Ambani added.
"West Bengal has made an immense contribution to the growth of the beautiful game in India. ISL's growing footprint in the state and across India, is yet another step towards our mission of building a competitive and robust football ecosystem in the country."
Owner and managing director of Shree Cement, Hari Mohan Bangur, who has acquired a majority stake in the club, gave full credit to the state chief minister for the last-minute inclusion of East Bengal.
"This was made possible because of Mamata ji. If at all we have to give credit, it's her," Bangur told PTI from Dubai.
"At the very beginning, she had made it clear (that East Bengal will play this year). Mamata ji's words carry a lot of weight and we did not look back (in forming a venture with EB)."
The real challenge, however, will begin now on the field, as the club will have to finalise the squad. The coach is yet to be announced with the tournament less than three months away.
Bangur, however, was confident of making up for the lost time and said they would announce the coach and full squad by September 30.
"We have been quite late already in selecting the coach, foreign players, training, but we are still confident of doing a good job. We will make the announcement by September 30," Bangur said.
"I know we have too little time, we are starting with a handicap. But still we will give a good fight. We are taking good players and a coach," the owner of Shree Cement, which had an annual turnover of more than Rs 12,000 crore last year, said.
Asked about the name of the club, he said: "It's such an old club, how can we dare to change the jersey colour or club's name. We will just add one prefix. The Board will announce in due course."
The consortium will expand the Board, which will have eight directors from Shree Cement and two from East Bengal.
Advisor of Shree Cement, Srenik Sett, who is likely to be one of the key members of the Board, said they cannot have East Bengal prefixed by Shree Cement Limited as per the guidelines.
"It's not possible with Shree Cement being a corporate group. We are toying with other ideas."
Sett said the priority is to prune the squad so that they can travel to Goa and enter the bio-secure bubble.
ATK-Mohun Bagan had landed there on Friday.
"We have our squad ready. We will prune it to 18-20 members so that they can travel to Goa at the earliest," Sett said.
With the chief coach yet to be named, the squad is likely to head to Goa where they will train under assistant coach, Francisco Bruto Da Costa.
Having failed to win an I-League title by finishing runners-up for a second year in a row, East Bengal got the biggest jolt when their former investor Quess Corporation, who had a majority stake of 70 per cent, announced its decision to end the joint-venture, one-year before their tenure.
But then, things changed dramatically for the club.
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