Kolkata, Dec 18: The global recession is set to echo on India's football fields. Corporate houses associated with top football clubs in the country are seriously mulling on slashing the annual budget of the clubs, and the players are bound bear the brunt of the blow.
There are still a few months left before the next season but market forecasts paint a bleak picture, and the top bosses of the high-spending clubs can only brace themselves.
Among clubs likely to be hit the hardest are UB Group-sponsored Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, former NFL champions and top Goan outfit Salgaocar and Mumbai giants Mahindra United. Senior officials of the clubs and the sponsors are now speaking the same language. That the clubs need to come together with a collective plan to tide over this crisis and paycuts for star players is part of it.
"Mohun Bagan and East Bengal's annual budget is decided by the UB Group's marketing division in March every year. They then hand the budgets to representatives of UB Spirits Division (for Kingfisher East Bengal) and UB Liquor Division (for McDowell Mohun Bagan). The UB Group, like any other top corporate concern, has been affected by the meltdown and has had to resort to cost cutting steps. All I can say at this moment is that we will be trying to stick to the budget we had last year," UB Group's representative Amit Sen told TOI on Tuesday.
"In the current circumstances, it will be very tough to hike the budget. We are in a situation we have never encountered before, and we also don't know when normalcy will return in the global market. I would certainly urge the clubs to come together to engage in a discussion on player prices."
Mahindra United's top boss Alan Durante echoed similar fears. "The management has been instructed to look at all possible cost-cutting options. We'll actually be deciding on the budget in the next few days, and we have to be realistic in these testing times," Durante said.
Raj Gomes, a senior official of Salgaocar, was more forthright on the way forward, for he has already been instructed by club president Shivanand Salgaocar to curtail next year's budget.
"Our company has incurred huge losses in the export business. We are playing in the second division of I-League this year but even if we qualify for the top tier, we will not go for stars," he said. "I will welcome a move that will have all club officials sit and discuss the issue of players' pay packages and come up with a worthwhile solution," he added.
Durante was willing to see a silver lining. He feels the crisis will also bring some sanity among the top clubs before they start making huge offers to some of the top players. "I don't mind having a discussion with like minded club officials, but we should agree on what kind of offers we would be making to the players," he added.
Will the players agree to a pay cut? "Do they have an option?" shoots back Mohun Bagan assistant secretary Srinjoy Bose. "The players may think they can bargain with other clubs but once they do a reality check, they would know how bad the situation is. At this point all clubs must come together and agree on a salary cap for players," Bose said.