East Bengal likely to join ISL fold



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Indian Soccer League expansion Image: ISL

An invitation-to-tender process has been opened by the Indian Super League (ISL) to pave the way for a new team to join the top tier of club football in the country this season, expanding the league from 10 to 11 teams.

The Indian Super League is the joint premier football league along with I-League in India. The league is currently contested by 10 teams and each season runs from October to March. Each team currently plays 18 matches during the league stage, with the top four qualifying for the playoffs.

The I-League, formerly known as the National Football League, is the joint premier football league in India along with ISL. It is presently contested by 11 clubs across the country.

This year’s ISL will be played in three venues in Goa (India), likely starting in the latter part of November, amid strict health and safety measures to deal with the COVID-19 threat which has totally engulfed India.

The Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), the body which organizes ISL, has invited bids from interested clubs to partake of in the next edition of the league.

Mumbai-headquartered Football Sports Development Limited is an Indian company established to operate the ISL, the association football franchise-based league. The company is run as a subsidiary to Reliance.

“Bids are invited from six Cities – Delhi, Ludhiana, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Siliguri and Bhopal. Under the Invitation to Bid one new winning bidder and one new team shall be enrolled and awarded the right to participate in the ISL from the seventh edition onwards,” the FSDL said in a statement sent out.

Media reports stated that the move is expected to favor East Bengal’s bid to join the league. The deal is expected to be sealed and signed before the end of this month, with the league itself scheduled to start in November.

The East Bengal Football Club is an Indian professional football club based in Kolkata, West Bengal (India). The club competes in the I-League, one of the top divisions of Indian football.

Recently, East Bengal announced a new investor in Kolkata-based Shree Cements and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who played a key part in striking the deal, also made a strong pitch for East Bengal’s inclusion in the ISL.

Media reports quoted Banerjee as stating that with the entry of Shree Cement as investor it will be “self-sufficient” for East Bengal to complete the formalities of playing in the ISL this year.

“No one is ready to spend in this pandemic situation. But Shree Cement have come forward and finalized the negotiation. It gives a different level of joy and satisfaction,” the Chief Minister added.

“They (East Bengal) are now self-sufficient to complete the formalities (to play in ISL). It’s like winning from the jaws of defeat. I hope there will be no further obstacles,” she noted.

She said she has requested the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to do the needful so that East Bengal can play in the ISL this season – “All problems are now solved. All the fans will be happy that East Bengal will play in the ISL. Of course, they have to complete the formalities. I have requested everyone including the AIFF.”

The details of the deal were not disclosed, but it is learnt that Shree Cement will have a majority stake of 80 percent and the club will seek for an entry into the ISL.

Media reports further stated that promotion and relegation will be introduced in the ISL from the 2024-25 seasons, having been “agreed upon by all stakeholders”. It was also reported that the winner of the second-tier I-League will get “direct slots” in the ISL in 2022 and 2023.

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