Photo credit: SC East Bengal twitter
The Red and Golds are uncertain of their future in the Indian Super League due to rifts between the club and its financial backers.
Kolkata giants East Bengal and its financial backers Shree Cement Ltd. have soured their relationship just eight months after entering into an agreement that led to the Red and Golds make their debut in the Indian Super League (ISL).
The club and the investors had entered into a provisional agreement before the start of the ISL 2020-21 season and were supposed to enter into the final agreement later, after the end of the season. The final agreement is aimed at transferring the sporting rights of the club to the investors, Shree Cement, who now have 76% stake in the club. Shree Cement who agreed to become financial supporters for the club after the Red and Golds seeked West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee's help, signed a term sheet with the club in presence of Mamta Banerjee on September 1 last year. However, the company is now waiting for the club to put pen to paper on the final agreement, while the officials have not communicated with them in this regard.
In an interview with Sportsar, Hari Mohan Bangur, the managing director of Shree Cement, said that the decision to enter into association with the club was for a good cause with regards to developing 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 to stand up for this cause,” he said, further adding that responsibility of taking the agreement forward is now on the office bearers of the club.
"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.
The issue regarding the transfer of power to the investors is not a new scenario at the club, something that led to their previous investors, Quess Corp, to move out of the association. Now, the final agreement with Shree Cement seems to cast some doubts in the minds of the club officials, who feel that the agreement might end up giving all the powers and rights of the club to their financial guarantors for eternity.
Bangur said in his interview that the club officials should approach his firm if they want to clear the air regarding the final agreement. "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,” said the managing director.
"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 further added.
The fans are demanding the club to clear the situation and are demanding the club officials to shed some light on the situation. East Bengal Ultras made a list of demands from the club regarding the standoff, “The fans and supporters of this great club have been in the dark regarding what is actually happening,” it said in a letter addressed to the club seeking answers from club secretary Kalyan Majumder. The letter also demanded the timeframe within which the club would enter into the agreement, the details of term sheets and a statement of steps taken by the club to reach an agreement with the firm. A similar letter has also been addressed to the managing director of Shree Cement as well.
"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 club official Debabrata Sarkar. He further added that the investors have the right to decide the team and squad and some other doubts regarding the final agreement will be brought to notice upon a meeting, "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,” he said. Sarkar however did not divulge any details on the differences noticed by the club between term sheet and final agreement.
"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 anonymous East Bengal official.
The insiders at the club claim that the officials are being extra cautious after their agreement with Quess Corp fell through.