The former Red and Gold star spoke about the club’s entry into the top tier and expectations ahead of their debut season.

East Bengal have become the latest inductee into the Indian Super League (ISL) and will make their debut in the upcoming season, but club legend Bhaichung Bhutia is urging fans to be realistic with their expectations for the first term.

The Red and Gold will now appoint their head coach for the coming campaign and start building the core of their squad, including signing foreign players suitable to thrive in the league. With little time and resources available to build a potentially title-challenging squad, Bhaichung believes fans shouldn’t judge the performances of the team this season.

In an interaction with PTI, he said: “From the fans point of view, everyone was looking at playing the ISL this year. That has been achieved.”

“Obviously, there is going to be a challenge in terms of building the team. We should not really judge the team’s performance this year. All good Indian players have got long-term contracts. To build a team is going to take time because no player would be available in the market right now.”

A day before the official announcement of East Bengal’s participation in the ISL, their arch-rivals ATK Mohun Bagan signed Sandesh Jhingan in a big money deal and Bhutia insists the Red and Gold must invest for the long-term, with all prized Indian players under contract somewhere else.

He said: “Jhingan has just signed for five years. All top quality players have long-term contracts with their respective clubs. I think East Bengal will have to build long-term. They will have to develop players.”

Of course, now with both the Kolkata giants a part of the ISL, the Kolkata Derby will be one of the most anticipated spectacles in the league next season. Opening up about his expectations from the derby, Bhaichung Bhutia said, “Derby is a different ball game and I think East Bengal should do well. The motivation and passion for a derby is at a different level, whatever may be the tournament. Emotions just soar up.”

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“Derby is totally a game of nerves. If the best players can’t keep their nerves, they can’t perform. It’s got a lot to do with the nerves and depends on who can take the pressure well on that given day. Anything can happen.”

The biggest benefactor of the arrival of both the legacy clubs will be the ISL itself, which will witness a massive spike in viewership and TV ratings with next season likely to be played entirely behind closed doors.

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