Mohun Bagan, East Bengal approach AIFF over potential revamp

Indian football's oldest rivals - Kolkata clubs Mohun Bagan and East Bengal - might not agree on a lot of things, but latest developments suggest that the two clubs have come together to discuss a possible revamped structure of Indian football next season onwards.

To this end, the two clubs have sought an appointment with AIFF president Praful Patel and secretary Kushal Das in the first week of May.

PTI reported on Wednesday that top officials of both clubs met with a senior AIFF official in the presence of the Indian Football Association (IFA) - the body that governs the sport in West Bengal.

The two clubs are believed to be seeking AIFF support for approaching the governing body's commercial and marketing partners IMG-Reliance (IMG-R) to waive off the franchise fee of Rs 15 crore (roughly $ 2.3 million) and other criteria such as not playing their home matches in Kolkata for a period of two years, if they are to compete next season in the top division of Indian football, which could well be the Indian Super League (ISL) from 2017-18.

"What we intend to tell Mr. Patel is that 100-year-old clubs like ours deserve to be in the top league of India, and that there should not be an expectation for us to pay franchise money like they do with the other [ISL] teams," East Bengal's assistant general secretary Santi Ranjan Dasgupta told ESPN. "We will compete, but let us seek our own sponsors and devise our own budget."

"We want to know what exactly IMG-R have in mind. They have said they want full control over all intellectual property, and they want us to play outside Kolkata for the first two years," Anjan Mitra, the secretary of Mohun Bagan, said. "There are more such criteria that we do not find acceptable and want to meet AIFF in Delhi next week to discuss."

Dasgupta pointed to the success of Aizawl FC in the ongoing I-League, where the north-eastern club are a point away from a historic title win this weekend, to further his point about the economic model his club wants to follow.

"Today, Aizawl FC are on the brink of winning the I-League, and they have operated on a budget of just Rs 3 crore [about $ 460,000], while our clubs have spent 10-15 crores and we haven't been able to win the league.

"We should perhaps follow some of the steps that they [Aizawl] have been taking," said Dasgupta, also indicating that a longer league ought to take the economics of signing big names and the cost associated into mind.

"If they [ISL] are expecting us to play with six foreigners and pay them fees for a longer league, then we should also evaluate the quality of these foreigners. They are all big names, but most are well past their prime."

Despite playing without a sponsor this season, Mohun Bagan could potentially win a record-equalling fifth league title on Sunday if they beat Chennai City FC and Aizawl lose away to Shillong Lajong.

However, both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are reportedly keen on fielding a team with their own sponsors. This, they believe, can help them prevent relinquishing intellectual properties such as jersey, logo, and team name, which would otherwise be granted to IMG-R.

"At East Bengal, we don't know the pressures and pulls on Mohun Bagan, since they are currently being funded privately, but we have the confidence that we can get sponsors on board to get the kind of money we require. Our interests come first," Dasgupta said.

I-League CEO Sunando Dhar told ESPN, "There have been discussions on for some time now, and if the Kolkata clubs want to put forward their perspective, we will have to see what they have to say. They met up with an AIFF official last evening in Kolkata, but there's no official communication about their suggestions yet."