For East Bengal, qualifying a record seven times for the AFC Cup has come at a price, literally. A club official said they struggle to budget for this Asian competition.
Maybe that's why they also struggle to make an impact, making it to the quarter-finals only once, in 2004 when
the tournament was launched. Last year, East Bengal (EB) lost all their games in the four-team group.
"We get around $20,000 for each away game from the AFC (Asian Football Confederation). And a bulk of that if not all of it goes on travel," said Debabrata Sarkar, EB's executive committee member, on Tuesday.
EB start against Malaysia's Selangor at the Salt Lake stadium here on Wednesday. Hosting each game here - two seasons ago they even had to move to Cuttack for their home games - costs around R10-12 lakh, said Sarkar. That's over R30 lakh for the three home games EB will play this year and Sarkar said he isn't sure if the shortfall can be made up. For away games, EB's opponents take care of their accommodation on a quid pro quo basis. "Yet we look forward to this because it is an honour to represent India and a learning experience," said Sarkar.
Coach Trevor James Morgan was blunt about EB's chances: "We are not going to win this. No Indian team is going to win this. Getting out of the group stage would be a huge achievement."
Taken in conjunction with Subhas Bhowmick, technical director at Churchill Brothers, eschewing travel to Hong Kong to get reserve players I-League ready when it resumes next month, it gives an indication of where Indian clubs' priorities lie.
Morgan though said he was quietly confident of East Bengal doing well this time. Over the next three months, East Bengal will play the I-League, the AFC Cup, the IFA Shield and the Calcutta League and Morgan will have to deal with fixture congestion of the kind that has got Chelsea's Gary Cahill all worked up. Full points on Wednesday may not help him deal with all of that but "it will give everybody that bit of confidence." And that can't be a bad thing.
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