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How ambitious East Bengal and Gokulam Kerala are helping usher in a new era for I-League

Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar

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The South Indian outfit have unearthed some underrated gems recently, meanwhile the Red and Gold Brigade have sorted out their financial issues.

When East Bengal’s partnership with Corporate tycoons Quess Corporation was announced in July, it was the dawn of a bright future for the Red and Gold who have had sponsorship issues in the past. While Bengal are the ones to fully benefit from this impressive tie-up, the reputation of the I-League will also be improved thanks to the sides in it getting so much exposure lately.

The I-League might have the reputation of being a "budget league" which doesn’t have the glamour or riches of its sister the Indian Super League, but the clubs are trying their best to change that. East Bengal’s tie-up with the corporate giants has allowed them to reach new heights financially, with Quess Corp hell-bent on making the club full of world-class facilities, players and coaches as well.

Upon sealing the deal as the corporate sponsors of East Bengal, Quess Corporation’s CEO Subrata Nag stated their desire to do everything needed to make East Bengal a premier club in Indian football once again. He said, “We’ll try to improve professional management, how to improve training facilities, youth development, and sports management. We’ll try to tie-up with top European clubs to improve the state of the club.”

Watch: East Bengal Vs Mohun Bagan highlights

Since then, the mega-rich investors have kept true to their word and tried to bring mainstream attention on East Bengal with some impressive acquisitions. Bengal surprised many by signing Costa Rican World Cup defender Jonny Acosta last month, something which not only adds an incredible figure in their defence, but also brought quite a lot of spotlight on the club.

They also signed Borja Gomez Perez, who has a lot of experience playing in La Liga and has played against the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the past. It seems like the Red and Gold are following the famous "defence wins you championships" mantra and seriously strengthening their backline, which let them down at various times last season.

East Bengal showed further ambitions by roping in Alejandro Menendez as their new head coach for the I-League season. The coach, who has managed Real Madrid’s junior team in the past and worked alongside Jose Mourinho briefly, will also bring two assistants and a video analyst as part of his backroom staff. This kind of acquisition is widely seen among the ISL clubs, but an I-League club doing similar things shows its evolution. Menendez will also oversee Bengal’s youth teams' development and with Quess putting a lot of emphasis on the youth, it shows how they’re already looking to the future.

The fact that Menendez will bring in two assistants and a video analyst with him proves how much East Bengal have grown under the Quess brand already. While the likes of Khalid Jamil, Trevor Morgan had to work with limited resources, there will be no limits for Menendez who will also play a big part in improving the facilities at the club. He will not only change their gameplay, but make sure that the players follow proper routines and that the playing conditions are always in top shape.

East Bengal will be relying a lot on their new signing Johnny Acosta

It seems like there are no bounds for East Bengal this time around and Quess have proved how true they are to their words, by not only supporting the senior team but also the youth teams. East Bengal’s U-19 team which won the IFA Shield this season was rewarded handsomely, as Quess paid the young squad ₹1 lakh as reward for the victory. Moreover, with their foreign acquisitions, East Bengal are following in the footsteps of ISL clubs like ATK and FC Goa, who benefitted heavily by bringing in the Spanish expertise.

East Bengal’s impressive acquisitions are definitely turning the heads of Indian football fans and is guaranteed to see a spike in viewers of the league next season. Not only will their exciting signings ensure an improvement in attendance figures for the club, but many fans will be intrigued to see how the likes of Acosta and Perez play in Indian conditions.

While East Bengal might be revelling from cash-rich investors due to their glittering history, another newcomer to the I-League is making the news for growing exponentially fast as a club. Gokulam Kerala might have only spent a single season in the top flight, but the way they’ve developed as a club is second to none. Gokulam had a very slow start to the I-League season last time out, but their clever owners and management helped turn it around.


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Not only that, but a reason for their impressive development is because of the intelligent footballing brains in their management right now. Gokulam Kerala didn’t only keep experienced candidate Bino George to bring some stability, but their impressive foreign coaches and scouts have also helped unearth some underrated gems. They’ve also got a new coach in Fernando Valera, who will help bring in much-needed foreign expertise to help them possibly mount a title challenge this season.

Gokulam Kerala have been able to attract a lot of sponsors in the past year and recently made Fast&Up their nutritional sponsors for the season. While they might not be as rich as East Bengal, their upper-level management has done a great job in reaping in finances from sponsors to make sure they can build a proper squad this time for the new campaign. At a time when I-League sides are facing difficulties roping in sponsors, Gokulam have many franchises sponsoring them and are using a ploy used by the ISL clubs to help bring them mainstream attention.

But, the ambitions of Gokulam Kerala were truly shown after the Indian football season was over, as they not only had an overhaul in management, but put more emphasis on getting better behind-the-scenes workers. The scouts who have been employed by the club are rigorously doing their job to scan the best Indian talents from around the nation and were also present at the Santosh Trophy, which was won by Gokulam earlier this year. Kerala have appointed some famous scouts and unlike other clubs, they aren’t putting emphasis on foreign talents, but instead trying to build a strong Indian core.

Gokulam can mount a serious challenge for the I-League title this season

They have also appointed a foreign technical director, who is in-charge of overseeing the development of the club and keep a track of these behind-the-scenes men as well. Gokulam might not have the history or panache as a club like East Bengal, but their accelerating growth is akin to Minerva Punjab’s remarkable development, which won them the I-League last season. Kerala look set to be serious title challengers this season.

Another side to show impressive ambitions are NEROCA FC, who despite losing influential coach Gift Raikhan in the summer, managed to rope in Spanish coach Manuel Frailie as his replacement. NEROCA have also made some impressive foreign signings and look to be on course for another title challenge for the I-League title next season.

But, the way East Bengal and Gokulam Kerala are pacing themselves for a bright future, a lot of success could be waiting for them in the next few years if they stick to their plans. These ambitious clubs are looking to break the predictable cycle of the I-League and their acquisitions and PR work will definitely help bring more prominence to the league.

Published: Sat Sep 15, 2018 05:59 PM IST

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