East Bengal’s ISL journey hits roadblock as differences grow between club and investor

East Bengal Club has run into a crisis with its new financial patron, that is threatening its existence in the top league of the country – the Indian Super League.

SC East Bengal made its ISL debut last season.   -  ISL / Sportzpics

SC East Bengal has run into a crisis with its new financial patron that is threatening its existence in the country’s top football league, the Indian Super League (ISL).

Barely eight months after entering an agreement with Shree Cement Ltd, the East Bengal officials find themselves caught in an invisible tug of war with their financial benefactor over certain “misconceptions and doubts” that could derail the deal.

The apparent discord arises from the signing of the final or binding agreement that would permanently secure the transfer of the “sporting rights” of the club to Shree Cement East Bengal Foundation, the new entity in which the former is controlling 76 percent stake.

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The transfer of the relevant powers and rights were thought to be an automatic process after East Bengal and Shree Cement signed the “term sheet” in the presence of the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on September 1. Banerjee was instrumental in securing the financial support for the club, which had appealed to the high office after failing to secure a sponsor to fund its aspirations of playing in the ISL. Shree Cement agreed to “adopt” the club and released enough funds to help the side make its ISL debut.

For Hari Mohan Bangur, the Managing Director of Shree Cements Limited, the decision to associate with East Bengal was an emotional one and was intended at helping football in Bengal and India.   -  Nagara Gopal

 

But the East Bengal officials developed cold feet over signing the final agreement, which Shree Cement is now viewing as a mandatory step for the association to stay alive.

For Hari Mohan Bangur, the managing director of Shree Cements, the decision to associate with East Bengal was an emotional one and was intended to help football in Bengal and India. “We thought it was a good cause to be responding to the invitation from East Bengal. We were positive that our gesture would benefit football in Bengal as well as in India. Now, the club officials are suddenly not forthcoming about signing the final agreement. If they abruptly develop other ideas, then I am not going stand up for this cause,” he said, adding that the onus of taking the agreement ahead is on the East Bengal officebearers.

“We wanted to adopt the fantastic institution with a great history, but have not been able to complete the adoption process. Practically speaking, they first agreed to let us adopt the child showing a lot of interest initially, but now they are hesitant about handing over the baby. The adoption process thus remains incomplete,” Bangur said.

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Shree Cement managing director said that the doubts and misgivings lie with the East Bengal officials who are complicating the matter by not approaching his firm to find a solution. “I would like the competent officials of East Bengal to come and point out if there is any difference between the term sheet we had signed at the start and the final agreement, which needs to be signed now. If they don’t want us to be there, then we won’t like to be there as intruders. We would like to take this association ahead only when we feel welcomed at the club,” Bangur told Sportstar.

“We would not like to exert our legal rights, and we will go only when we are welcomed by the club. There is a lot of disappointment with the way the club officials are suddenly behaving, but I don’t carry any bitterness for them. I am willing to wait and give some more time for the club officials to realise and act,” he added.

Many East Bengal fan groups are growing restless with the unexplained standoff between club and investor. Hailing from different parts of West Bengal, the fan groups have expressed their displeasure on various social media platforms.

Robbie Fowler

SC East Bengal was coached by Robbie Fowler last season.   -  ISL/Sportzpics

 

One such group, East Bengal Ultras, has presented a list of demands to the East Bengal officials. “The fans and supporters of this great club have been in the dark regarding what is actually happening,” it said in a letter seeking answers from East Bengal secretary Kalyan Majumder.

The letter seeks a timeframe within which East Bengal proposes to sign the final agreement and the details of the term sheet and the steps the club officials are taking to reach an agreement with Shree Cement. A similar letter has been addressed to the Shree Cements managing director.

“We hope to meet Mr Bangur soon and clarify our doubts regarding the final agreement. I am sure it will help in resolving the issue,” said Debabrata Sarkar, one of the key officials at East Bengal. “We know that our new investor has the necessary rights to decide about the team and select the squad for the upcoming season. There are no disputes regarding that. We will like to take up the rest of the matter with Mr Bangur,” said Sarkar, without providing details of the contentious “difference” between the term sheet and the final agreement that has led to the current imbroglio.

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“The club officials have now grown apprehensive that the present dispensation will lose out every right to the investor, which is apparently looking for perpetual control over the institution. This looks like a case of miscommunication between the club and the investor. The club officials have certain doubts regarding some provisions in the final agreement which are not being clearly addressed by the officials entrusted with the task of negotiating for Shree Cement,” said an East Bengal official on condition of anonymity.

According to club insiders, the East Bengal officials have become “extra cautious” after their previous association with Quess Corp abruptly fell through after a year.

 

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