On October 2019, AFC recognised the Indian Super League as the country’s premier competition while recommending that, AIFF should “open a pathway” for two I-League clubs’ entry into ISL by the end of 2020-21 season. This decision of AFC necessarily demoted I league to the second division status. Clubs like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal who always have been playing in the top tier for a century now looked for their way into the top tier. Mohun Bagan finds the way by dealing a merger with celebrated ISL club ATK. With the ensued entry of rival Mohun Bagan into the ISL, East Bengal management is now acting aggressively to confirm that East Bengal can play ISL next season without waiting a season more.
IFTWC learnt that even before the coronavirus epidemic forced country into lockdown, East Bengal was making some concrete strides towards playing ISL next season. Apart from seeking help from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Benarji in the matter, East Bengal FC is allegedly successful in drawing serious attention from a unnamed investor. If the reports are true, that unnamed investor could very well be American multinational consumer goods corporation procter and gamble aka P & G. The same report suggest that an agreement is infact reached between the club and investors and can be a public knowledge within couple of months. With new ISL season yet many months away,East Bengal is already having a very aggressive transfer market. Looking at the names those are being confirmed or tied up, its clear East Bengal is indeed making a team for ISL. Without revealing much details, in a Times of India interview senior club official Debabrata Sarkar quoted ‘We are keeping many options open. We are battle ready for any possibility. At the same time, we strongly believe that if Mohun Bagan can play ISL, We can do so too.”
With every factor and development suggesting that East Bengal very well be playing next ISL, the question arises that how ISL authorities will incorporate an extra club. We learnt that the AFC recommendation of opening pathway for two clubs in the end of 2020-21, was infact based on the roadmap formulated by AIFF brass led by Praful Patel. If East Bengal plays ISL in the next season, the addition of two club in after ISL 2020-21 can very well be preponed to the ‘in ISL 2020-21’.
So if East Bengal is the one of the two club, who will be the second ? The answer is in north of India, from where currently there isn’t a single club playing in ISL. If there is one club from I league that is acting as aggressively as East Bengal if not more is Punjab FC ( previously known as Minerva Punjab).
In the beginning of I-league 2019-20 Roundglass sports private limited acquired 50% shares of Minerva Punjab, the club was officially renamed to Punjab Football Club. On 17th March 2020, Roundglass acquired the remaining 50% shares from Ranjit Bajaj. According to our sources, within this short period of time, Roundglass sports have invested as much money into the club as Minerva Punjab previously did in previous four five seasons combined. Currently Rounglass is pumping funds into youth development by bringing UEFA certified coaches. Its very rare in India that, clubs appoints UEFA license holder in youth level. The club is reportedly developing their own sports facilities in Chandigarh. With legacy of Minerva Punjab’s success in their belt, a financially strong management Punjab FC will be the most likely club to join ISL.
Though quite unlikely, we have our sources suggesting that ARA FC from Ahmedabad may also look to find their way into India’s premiere division in the last moment.
However currently amid Coronavirus crisis and uncertail lockdown of the Nation, we might have to wait quite a long period for official announcement from AIFF formally opening the bidding for ISL spots.