I-League 2017: Kolkata Derby has lost its sheen

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East Bengal
The Kolkata giants are all set to renew its rivalry at the refurbished Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on December 3.

Kolkata Maidan's 'Boro Match' returns to its familiar abode after 680 days on December 3, when Mohun Bagan take on East Bengal in the marquee match of I-League at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan (YBK) in Salt Lake. Since the last derby on January 23, 2016 in Kolkata, a tectonic change has taken place in Indian football. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has given a go-ahead to two professional leagues, the I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL), at the same time in the Indian football calendar. 

Although the AIFF has repeatedly emphasised that I-League remains the premier competition of the country and the champions will get a direct shot at the AFC Champions League play-off, whereas the ISL champions will have to remain satisfied with the AFC Cup playoff matches, the step-motherly treatment being meted out to I-League has not gone unnoticed. 

During the I-League launch in New Delhi, the AIFF defended its decision of awarding the Star Sports Network the broadcasting rights of the I-League by emphasising its unmatched coverage and production quality. But the first three matches have cleared any doubt that I-League would continue to be covered with bare minimum resources, just the way it has been happening since its inception.

I-League CEO Sunando Dhar going on record saying, "You just cannot compare the standards of coverage. ISL has 18 cameras while we have six. We were never going to get that and were aware before Star came in." Therefore if one expects a good production quality and a better viewing experience of the Kolkata Derby, he is living in a fool's paradise. 

The 2 pm kick-off has been a subject of controversy recently. Though there has been a suggestion that the Kolkata clubs requested for the match to start at that time, however, the clubs have come out vehemently denying the same.

With the two leagues running simultaneously, the demand for players has gone up massively. While the player pool has remained more or less the same, the best lot have been attracted towards the Indian Super League (ISL) teams owing to their better financial offers. 

Sony Norde Minerva Punjab FC Mohun Bagan I-League 2017/2018

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One has to turn the pages of history to find a Mohun Bagan squad without any Indian national team regular. There has been mass exodus at East Bengal as well as 12 of their players from last season have joined the ISL and only three players, namely Nikhil Poojary, Mohammed Rafique (both players had long-term contracts with East Bengal which prevented them from jumping ship) and Salam Ranjan Singh have been called up for international duty in recent times.

ATK raked in INR 14 crore from sponsorship alone in the previous edition of the ISL while two Kolkata giants have struggled to run the day-to-day operations on a shoestring budget. Sony Norde is the only star factor in the derby while other big names such Pritam Kotal, Balwant Singh, Jeje Lalpekhlua have switched to the ISL. There has been next to no promotion of the Kolkata derby in the City of Joy which has been instead adorned with posters of Robbie Keane.

This Sunday, the arch rivals will once again fight it out to win bragging rights on the familiar YBK pitch but the second-hand treatment coupled with the absence of household names like Mehtab Hossain, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Debjit Majumder, the first Kolkata Derby of the I-League season is all set to be a low-key affair. 

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