It feels unreal that there will be just two more derbies before Mohun Bagan merges into ATK ahead of the Indian Super League (ISL) next season. Sunday’s I-League fixture against East Bengal — at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata — will be the penultimate one, before the reverse leg on March 15.
While fans rue the end of a traditional rivalry, former Mohun Bagan midfielder Renedy Singh believes the ATK-Bagan merger is good for the overall health of the players.
“I think this is very good for the players, because they will get a better place to stay, a better place to train and they don’t need to worry when their salaries will come. And they will be playing in the top league – ISL.
“There is a lot of history in Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. No fans can be better than Mohun Bagan-East Bengal for me, but if you think about the players, they need to play in the best league,” Renedy told Sportstar on Saturday.
After the All India Football Federation picked the ISL as the country's top league in its new roadmap for Indian football in October last year, the I-League dropped in the pecking order. The tournament has been left without an AFC slot too. Club secretary Swapan Bose has been running Bagan out of his own pocket after losing primary sponsor McDowell's.
Renedy also highlighted the advanced telecast of the ISL which is helping the sport grow in the country and consequentially also giving more local footballers recognition.
“Look at the quality of the telecast, and also from the organisational and salary point of view. It is really good for the players,” said Renedy, who donned the Bagan maroon from 1996 to 2004. Towards the end of his career, he also represented East Bengal (2008 to 2010).
The 40-year-old feels the fans will slowly accept the change and East Bengal may soon follow suit. “There are a few who are still reluctant, but I feel that in time they will start supporting their team like before. Even the fans want their favourite team to play in the top league of the country, then qualify for AFC and do well in Asia.
“Nobody would want their team to play in the second division. We all know ISL is the top league now. We all know that right now, given how the situation is, even East Bengal may soon come to ISL.”
The veteran suggested that in Bagan’s absence, the I-League can perhaps have one more team to ensure balance. “One more team should be added to make sure that the players, who are not getting a chance in I-League and ISL, should get a place to play,” he said.
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