“I am an East Bengal fan first and foremost,” says the newly-formed entity Quess East Bengal’s Chief Executive Officer Sanjit Sen.
He rubbishes the reports which state that Quess paid Rs 400 crore for a 70% controlling stake in the club’s footballing team. “We formed a Joint Venture, with Quess and East Bengal as equal partners, with the club providing a non-cash contribution in terms of its footballing and cricket sporting rights. For now, Quess provides the capital in the short-term but we’re looking to expand our sponsorships and commercial deals,” explains Sen.
Sen, a Chartered Accountant by profession was hired by QEB with a role to transform the club’s fortunes off the field. Results on it have not gone the club’s way this season with the Calcutta Football League title lost to their bitter rivals Mohun Bagan.
With the club languishing in sixth place, Sen quashes the notion that the upcoming Kolkata derby may act as a title eliminator. “Both stakeholders are not looking for immediate returns from this venture. Sure, the derby, given the history of the two clubs is a huge game but in terms of the title, we have a long way to go. We will get to know the situation better after five or six games.”
The club, often known for its hire-and-fire policy, has seen a lot of upheaval in the run-up to the big game. Syrian midfielder Mahmoud Al-Amna has been let go with Toni Dovale brought in. Jamie Colado Santos has also signed on for the club, and will be available for the derby.
“All the decisions regarding the players are taken by the coach. We don’t interfere in them. The parting with Al-Amna was on amicable terms. He was suffering a long-term injury and he was given sufficient time to recover but the coach made the call.
“Enrique Esqueda is injured and is expected to be out for eight weeks while he recovers. While Jamie will be available, Toni Dovale’s ITC [International Transfer Certificate] is yet to come through and he will be available only in January,” Sen added.
Discussions are also on to take over a stadium owned by the government on a PPP [Public-Private Partnership]. “Preliminary talks with the government’s sports committee have been held. We have our own East Bengal ground which is a heritage building and source of great pride for us. It is however, property of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and maintained by the Public Works Department (PWD). Thus, we will require a lot of clearances to develop it,” adds Sen.
The new ground will be an integrated all-round football facility, but it is still an ‘idea’ according to Sen.
While whisper networks have been going gaga over news that East Bengal have almost secured a place in next season’s Indian Super League, Sen says no talks on this front have been held with the All India Football Federation or Football Sports Development Limited, the organisers of the ISL.
“This, for us, is a long-term plan. We want to play in the top league or the unified league, whatever that is. For now, the AIFF in accordance with the AFC and Fifa have to decide on the future of the league and we are waiting,” he says.
A huge fan base means that there is immense pressure on the club to sign the best footballers in the country but Sen says development remains a priority. “We want good Bengali footballers but we have scouts all over the country. Right now, we have Manoj [Mohammed], Kaushik [Sarkar] and others who have come through the ranks.
“But we need to take a look at the nurseries of the NorthEast and how they produce footballers. While there is a thin mesh between culture and aspiration, we need to change the way we’re looking at the game. Previously, footballers used to want to play for East Bengal and Mohun Bagan but had day jobs that went along with it. Now, you can be a full-time footballer, so the aspiration has shifted from wanting to play for MB, EB to becoming a footballer. We also must adapt accordingly,” he concludes.
For the boy who saw his beloved club defeat Iran’s PAS Club in the 1970 IFA Shield final, the dream has becoming a reality. For the fan in him, the Kolkata Derby couldn’t come sooner.