The landscape of Indian club football changed forever after the advent of the Indian Super League (ISL). Robust industrial conglomerates started owning football clubs. Millions started to pour in which ensured that Indian football was being served on a platter that the audience has not come across before. Six years down the line, ISL has registered itself as the top division league with a confirmed AFC Champions League slot.
The traditional powerhouses who had been reluctant to join the league have also started to smell the coffee. In the past one year, Swapan Sadhan Bose, secretary of Mohun Bagan, must have been asked a billion times by the fans, "Amra ISL kobe khelbo?" (When are we (Mohun Bagan) going to play in ISL?)
On Thursday afternoon, the merger between ATK and Mohun Bagan was officially announced which paved the way for the Mariners to participate in ISL. More importantly, they earned a lifeline which ensures that their favourite club does not lose its relevance in the future due to financial crisis.
I-League is in doldrums and not only it has been relegated to the second division and it won't have an AFC slot after three years. Sooner or later, you had to join the ISL and for that, you need finances and investment.
The Bagan officials held discussions with a number of potential investors, after the first round of talks fell through with ATK but nothing came of it. Therefore, when communication was re-established between the two clubs the negotiators were wiser for the knowledge that it was not easy to convince a business firm to invest in Indian football. It had also become quite evident that no one would sponsor such mammoth amounts (30-40 crore) without claiming any stake in the club.
Hence to accept the merger became the judicious step forward for a club that has been struggling to meet both ends meet, even with a pinch of salt. It must be noted, that Bose and co. had not opted to bring an investor even after parting ways with former sponsor McDowells. After months of careful deliberations, the officials understood that in order to continue to be a reckoning force in the changing landscape one, must compromise. Taking into consideration the larger interests and future prospects, it became inevitable to sacrifice unbridled power and more importantly stakes in the club. In fact, the kind of money they got from a sponsor would have not have been enough to play in the ISL.
What Bagan officials were looking for was somebody to front money and for them to run the football affairs of the club. But they have stepped back from those demands and accepted that the potential investor will want stakes in the club.
The players of the entity can now hope to receive their salaries in time, the club tent might get a new-look, and even the residential academy in Durgapur which has virtually shut down its operations might get a new lease of life.
Legacy, tradition, sentiment are three extremely necessary ingredients, as the three combine to form the soul of a football club. But the soul must find a body to express itself and the body, in turn, must be nourished for its sustenance.