The Player Status Committee of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has imposed a transfer ban on East Bengal over irregularities in their failed attempts to sign defender Sukhdev Singh from Minerva Punjab. This ruling effectively prohibits them from registering any player till January 31, 2019.
Interestingly, Sukhdev, who now plies his trade for Mohun Bagan, has also been banned from playing any competitive match and must pay a fine of Rs 50,000 each to AIFF and Minerva Punjab, as earlier revealed by Goal.
East Bengal had approached four Minerva players in April and had them sign 'draft contracts', which is basically a contract without legal validity.
Amongst them was Singh, who had a two-year contract with Minerva running till 2019. The Red and Gold officials had contacted the player's agent instead of the club and upon getting a green signal from the concerned agent, the officials went ahead with the signing.
While East Bengal opened talks with Sukhdev's agent, it was stupidity on their part to not consult Minerva or obtain anything on paper from the club before making the player sign a 'draft contract'. Moreover, the practice of signing a 'draft contract' was naive.
According to Henna Singh, co-owner of Minerva Punjab, the club officials were reluctant to open dialogues with Minerva even when the Punjab-based club offered to settle the matter amicably.
"In fact, when we tried to get in touch with them (East Bengal), they refused and said they will only speak with the agent," she told Goal.
Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan will also be affected as they must look for an alternative if Singh's ban is not reduced. Although Lalchhawnkima and Eze Kingsley fared well in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) a lack of options on the bench will be a concern for coach Sankarlal Chakraborty. Gurjinder Kumar has been decent in the local league at times in the center-back role which is a shift from his usual left-back position. But whether he can replicate his performance against better-equipped teams in I-League remains to be seen.
The transfer ban on a top club like East Bengal has been unprecedented in Indian football and it might not reflect well on the brand image of Quess Corp, the majority stakeholder of Quess East Bengal FC Pvt. Ltd. Although it must be remembered that Quess was not on board when the 'draft contract' was signed between the two parties in April.
"There is an appeal process in the system. We will discuss internally what needs to be done and will act accordingly," said Sanjit Sen, CEO of QEBFC, to Goal.
The punishment meted out to East Bengal should act as an eye-opener for other clubs to act more responsibly as such sanctions not only hamper the footballing-project at hand but also tarnishes the reputation of the organization.