It took its sweet time to unravel but the saga that has been widely discussed and debated in Indian football nearing its climax. East Bengal will soon be an Indian Super League (ISL) club and thereby feature in the top tier of Indian football from the upcoming season, according to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The officials from both sides and the hardcore supporters of the Kolkata-based club can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Because at the end of what turned out to be a long waiting game, everybody gets their prize.
Only a few months ago, the organisers of the Indian Super League (ISL), Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), in a meeting with club representatives on Friday afternoon indicated that they are not looking to add any more teams for the upcoming edition of the league.
Although it initially looked like a big blow to the Red and Golds' chances of making it into the ISL next season, the club never really gave up on their objective. Their intentions were made very clear on every possible occasion and efforts were on behind the scenes to make the move a reality.
The club, who parted ways with their former investors Quess Corp, needed an investor on board in order to back their ISL move and once that deal started to materialize, it was only a matter of getting the nod of the league's top brass.
And for ISL, the move makes perfect sense. The only attributes that the six-year-old league lacked were 'legacy' and the noise of an intense derby rivalry and within a few month's time, they have a chance of filling up both those meters.
First, ATK struck a deal with Mohun Bagan to form an entity named ATK Mohun Bagan which will take part in ISL. Months later, they are now letting in their arch-rivals and the co-participants of the biggest football derby in India which instantly increases viewership and attracts a lot more interest from around the world. There will be a big crowd at the stadiums on matchdays (if and when the Covid-19 restrictions are taken off) and there will be huge engagement both on social media and in front of television sets, keeping the discussions on ISL and the rivalries alive.
For East Bengal, the sheer number of people who have talked about the club's desire to move into ISL says volumes about the kind of opportunity that has presented itself. ISL has set high standards in recent years in terms of how clubs are required to operate and the Red and Golds, as a club, should function in a better manner due to the demand to be unapologetically professional. Then there is also the pride of playing in the top division, which is huge for a century-old club like East Bengal.
It's a shame that the first Kolkata derby in ISL would most likely be behind closed doors. But what matters is that East Bengal fans got what they wished for and ISL should have no regrets whatsoever. It's, well and truly, a win-win situation.