Kolkata football pays the price for being ponzi pets. TWF correspondent Arindam Basu finds out the after effects of Sharada scam
When JCT and Mahindra United closed their doors to club football for lack of bonafide sponsors, the biggies from Kolkata paid no heed. They remained snug in their bubble of comfort, unaware of the giant trap they had waltzed into. Just after Sharada Group went bust this April and pulled down with it some 20 other small, big and medium chit-fund companies in the country's biggest ponzi scam ever, the clubs in the Maidan (the sprawling green lungs of Kolkata on the edges of which most of the clubs are located) are finding it hard to breathe.
Southern Samity, a club playing in the Premiere Division of Kolkata Football League, have stopped short of fielding a side this year. This, despite the fact that State Sports Minister Madan Mitra is the club president. "We have not been able to get sponsors for my club. The situation is so bad that we don't think we can make a team worth its name. In that case Southern Samity will not field a team this year," an official said. Southern Samity played in the I-League second division last year.
Of the clubs playing in the I-League, the worst hit is Prayag United. Now called United SC they have lost their title sponsor Prayag Group and are facing the odd ball of building a team mostly with junior recruits and those from the smaller clubs. "We have been hard hit. Last year we had a budget of almost Rs 17 crore. This year will be no more than Rs seven to eight crore. So you can imagine our plight," says a source close to the club.
They may have to part ways with a few big names in Subrata Pal, Gourmangi Singh, Shylo Malwamtulunga, Lalkamal Bhowmick and Dhanachandra Singh. Though it seems they have paid the country's best striker in Ranti Martins, it will be hard for them to retain the other foreigners in Kayne Vincent and Bello Razaq. Costa Rican World Cupper Carlos Hernandez has already left the club for Australia. Now with barely a few days left for the transfer window to close it remains to be seen if the club can pull out a rabbit from its hat.
If United SC are in the dumps, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are not far behind. Off the turf both the clubs are sponsored by Vijay Mallya's United Breweries for the last decade and half. It's not a secret that Mallya is going through a topsy-turvy ride and he may not live up to his commitments of sponsoring Rs 9 crore each to both clubs.
To add to the jeopardy East Bengal's co-sponsors included Sharada Group, Bluechip Projects and Rose Valley (also hit by a SEBI crackdown) among others, while Mohun Bagan had Sharada Group and Amra Remedies in their patron list among others.
Mohun Bagan started showing distress signals from the third week of May and it culminated with club president Swapan Sadhan Bose appealing to the supporters to stand by the club in its tough time. He also promised that he would personally pay Rs 2 crore from his pocket, besides trying to raise another Rs 2 crore at least from new co-sponsors. But that is not melting the ice at the Mariners' end.
They made matters worse by unilaterally releasing all footballers, except Shilton Paul, Biswajit Saha, Iche, Aibor, Denson Devadas, Manish Bhargav, Sabeeth and Odafa Okolie. Some of these footballers had contract with the club for at least two more seasons. Among those having contracts and then released included senior footballers like Arindam Bhattacharya, Snehashis Chakroborty, Manish Maithani and Nirmal Chetri and they have promised not to take the injustice lying down. Club Secretary Anjan Mitra said they have reduced their spending by almost 40 per cent.
The red-golds, despite having qualified for the AFC Cup quarter-finals, will now have to make do with a reduced budget. Last year they splurged around Rs 16 crore for the team, but this year with almost Rs 5 to Rs 6 crore short they are also in a tight spot.
Problems began when the players were offered new contract with a reduced salary. Chidi Edeh, Uga Okpara, Mehtab Hussain, Arnab Mondal, Abhijit Mondal, Harmanjyot Singh Khabra, Gurwinder Singh and Baljit Sahni were some of the big names who have signed on the dotted lines after a pay cut for a chance to play AFC Cup quarterfinals. But many have not. While, Penn Orji has moved on to Mohammedan Sporting, the fifth I-league club from the city this year, Robin Singh and Manandeep Singh are free players among other handful.
"We have not offloaded any player sighting financial meltdown. We have offered them what we could. Many of the players have understood our sincerity and commitment towards them and agreed to stay at a reduced payment. Those who have found greener pastures have moved on. We have released them," says Debabrata Sarkar, one of the top officials of the club.
There is a further twist in the tale. While the clubs look like headless chicken wandering about in search of sponsors, IFA itself is finding it a tad difficult going into the new season. While NVD Group was the prime sponsor for IFA Shield, Channel 10 held some of the major television rights. With NVD Group backing out and Channel 10 going broke after Sharada crisis, the hunt has begun anew for the regulatory body also.
For now the clubs are finding it difficult to dribble through the business of football. Only time will tell where they head.