Bhutia: East Bengal should be ready and prepared for ISL
On the anniversary of the club’s centenary celebrations, former East Bengal players Bhaichung Bhutia, Renedy Singh and Alvito D’Cunha expressed their desire to see the club feature in the country’s top division.
Bhaichung Bhutia, a former East Bengal captain, felt that the club should prepare in earnest and improve in all departments to stay afloat in the ISL, as and when it makes the grade.
The chances of East Bengal playing in the ISL next season remains a possibility, according to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das.
On the anniversary of the club’s centenary celebrations, former East Bengal players Bhaichung Bhutia, Renedy Singh and Alvito D’Cunha expressed their desire to see the club feature in the country’s top division during the Sportstar Star Talk series, powered by ITM University.
“Nothing is impossible,” replied Das, when asked whether the Red and Gold brigade could feature in the next ISL. “We came up with the roadmap last year in Kuala Lumpur. One of the things we decided was that by 2021, two clubs from I-League, through the bidding process, can get into the ISL by adhering to the regulations, including the financial part. Fortunately, Mohun Bagan [through its merger with ATK] has been able to come in [to ISL],” he said.
Bhutia, a former East Bengal captain, felt that the club should prepare in earnest and improve in all departments to stay afloat in the ISL, as and when it makes the grade.
“Can East Bengal fulfil the terms and conditions of playing in the ISL right now? The most important thing is for the club to be organised and be ready. We will have a relegation system in the ISL after a few years, and the club should be in a position to produce players and invest in them to make the club grow,” he said.
Singh, who had two stints with the club across six years, cautioned, “When we played in 1997, East Bengal was the biggest club. Now when I was in Kerala Blasters [as a player] and FC Pune City [as an assistant coach], I saw how organised ISL is. Comparing ISL and East Bengal, I know that they [EB] need to be organised. To get a sponsor is difficult, officials need to work both on and off the field.
"In ISL, we have to concentrate only on the training field. I know East Bengal is not ready to make the jump [to ISL]. Fans see that officials are not trying and they need to start working more professionally. If you don’t have the structure right then they could get relegated in the future.”
Dr. Shanti Ranjan Dasgupta, assistant general secretary of the club, said it has learnt its lessons from the untenable relationship with Quess Corp., which was terminated earlier this year. “I should say we share responsibilities for some problems. We will not get sponsors like KingFisher again, who were friendly with everyone and were involved in the club. We were hoping for Quess to behave that way but it didn’t happen. We tried to continue with them but they weren’t keen. This has been a sad moment in the last few years,” said Dasgupta.
Under Subhash Bhowmick, East Bengal won back-to-back National Football League titles and the ASEAN Cup.
Reflecting on their time with the club in the late 90s, both Bhutia and Singh chose the Kolkata derby win over Mohun Bagan [4-1] in the Federation Cup, which was watched by 1.31 lakh spectators, as their best moment in an East Bengal jersey. Singh said, “We have never seen a game like that with over 1 lakh fans. The positive pressure they [fans] give is something. I have never experienced it anywhere. I will cherish those moments. Those were the best years for me. The club has the best culture in my opinion.”
Both Bhutia and D’Cunha credited legendary coach Subhash Bhowmick for transforming the club in the early 2000s. Under Bhowmick, East Bengal won back-to-back National Football League titles and the ASEAN Cup.
D’Cunha said, “Before ASEAN, we had won five out of five trophies. In 2003, we had the icon player Bhaichung Bhutia joining us and we were playing our first tournament at ASEAN. It was less pressure than the local Calcutta Football League. We had a good pre-season under Bhowmick and Kevin Jackson [fitness coach]. We had a very good group of Indian and foreign players. We lost in the first game to the Philippine Army but after that we were unstoppable. Bhutia was crucial for us and we beat the same team [Philippine Army] convincingly in the final. A tournament like ASEAN was huge and we proved what India football was capable of.”