Former India captain and East Bengal great Bhaichung Bhutia feels the club will not be playing catch up and have enough time to get their house in order if they eventually manage to hop on to the Indian Super League (ISL) bus this season.
"I am very happy that finally East Bengal got an investor and are hopeful of playing ISL this year. I am really happy for the fans. They have been praying to see East Bengal play in the top league," Bhutia told IANS on Thursday.
East Bengal were without a sponsor for a long time after their former investors Quess Corp, who had a 70 percent stake in the club, terminated their tie-up on May 31 despite having a three-year deal. On Wednesday, East Bengal announced that they had sold a majority stake to city-based Shree Cement and would now appeal to the ISL organisers in a bid to make a dramatic late entry into the country's top tier club competition.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made the announcement on Wednesday, saying "all problems are solved, East Bengal will now play in the ISL".
The seventh edition of the ISL is set to start in Goa in the third week of November. Asked if East Bengal have enough time to build a team and at the same time fulfil all formalities, Bhutia said: "I think they have enough time. Other teams have also not really started training and some, like Chennaiyin FC and NorthEast United, have just appointed their coaches. Even Hyderabad FC had to change.
"East Bengal have already signed quite a few players, I think. So I don't think there should be any problem," said Bhutia, who began his career with East Bengal in 1992 and went on to win every single trophy with the club, including one National Football League title and the ASEAN Cup in 2003. The iconic former striker had five different stints donning red-and-gold starting between 1993 and 2011.
The player transfer window closes on October 20 and the registration deadline is October 23. East Bengal are yet to appoint a head coach and are still in talks with Spaniard Mario Rivera who guided the red-and-gold brigade to a second place finish in the truncated I-League.
Bhutia said his advice to East Bengal would be to forget everything and go and win the 'trophy'. "I think they have learnt their lessons from the past [with former investors Quess]. I am sure everybody will become more mature now," he hoped.
Bhutia also said if East Bengal do play the ISL this season, he would be eagerly waiting to see them and arch-rivals ATK-Mohun Bagan lock horns. "I am very excited to see the derby in the ISL. I can assure you that East Bengal and Mohun Bagan coming to the ISL will bring more charm. It will lift the tournament."
Talking about the I-League, Bhutia stressed it will continue to do well despite missing Mohun Bagan -- and possibly East Bengal, if they join the ISL bandwagon. "I-League will continue to do well. They will still have ambition that clubs could qualify for the ISL in a few years time when relegation and promotion starts."