No salary, no place to stay, and no flight tickets to return home – Johnny Acosta, the Costa Rican football star who has played in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, finds himself stranded in India after being “poorly treated” by his club.
Acosta is currently living at the Costa Rican embassy in New Delhi, waiting for a repatriation flight.
Acosta’s manager, Jose Luis Rodriguez, has accused East Bengal of “showing no respect” to the defender. He has alleged that East Bengal abruptly terminated Acosta’s contract, did not pay his wages, asked him to vacate his apartment, and did not provide him with tickets to return home.
Rodriguez has threatened to take the club to FIFA, football’s international governing body, for breach of his contract terms. East Bengal has refused to acknowledge this, saying the player’s contract had been with a former investor in the club.
“It has been a very tough situation for Johnny. He was frustrated with the behaviour of the club. Now he is feeling better because he is at the embassy in Delhi, waiting for his humanitarian flight, most likely on Saturday,” Rodriguez said on behalf of Acosta, who speaks no English.
“Johnny has played in two World Cups. He is a big player in Costa Rica. At least they could have shown some respect.”
Acosta is one of the highest-paid players in the I-League. He came to East Bengal in July 2018 for a reported fee of Rs 1.36 crore days after the World Cup in Russia, where he played in all of Costa Rica’s group stage matches against Brazil, Serbia, and Switzerland. The defender, who also played in the 2014 edition of the World Cup in Brazil, was released by East Bengal at the end of that season, but the Kolkata-based club approached him again this year.
The 36-year-old’s second stint began in March. However, barely a couple of weeks later, all football activities in the country were suspended as the government announced the lockdown. Within a month of that, East Bengal prematurely terminated the contracts of all players, citing financial constraints brought by the pandemic.
“No one had control over this situation. At least we were expecting the club to behave properly and be caring in a moment like this,” Rodriguez said.
According to the manager, Acosta’s disagreement with East Bengal began after he asked the club to arrange for his return home after they had terminated contracts and refused to pay salaries.
“The contract says the club is responsible for flight tickets from Costa Rica to Kolkata and from there back home. It doesn’t say price or amount, but says the club is responsible to send the player back home,” Rodriguez said.
Acosta remained in touch with the Costa Rican embassy, and provided flight-related information to the club, Rodriguez claimed. However, the club’s officials were “never willing to help”, he alleged.
“Their behaviour was surprising. Johnny’s first experience was nice, they delivered everything that was on the contract, and that is why he chose to come here. But this time… (they behaved differently),” Rodriguez said.
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I close a cycle of my life, this time a little different. In a great institution to which I have a lot of love and respect, @Quess East Bengal Fc, but that in the end there were contract and salary issues that failed to comply, in addition to little help for my return to Costa Rica where the club showed little disposition and apathetic to my situation! I keep the good times and I thank all the fans who always show their support I carry them in my heart, thank you @eastbengalfc
The frustration boiled over after the club asked Acosta to vacate his apartment. As per the contract, Rodriguez said, East Bengal were responsible for Acosta’s accommodation until May 31.
“It was strange behaviour. The club was asking him to return the keys but was not buying him tickets. We refused to return anything in a situation like this. Did they expect Johnny to live on the streets?” Rodriguez said.
East Bengal secretary Kalyan Majumdar said the club had “nothing to do with Acosta’s contract”.
“His contract was not with us, it was with Quess,” Majumdar said, referring to Quess Corp, a former investor in East Bengal that formally parted ways with the club on June 1. “As far as we are concerned, Johnny has gone back to Costa Rica.”
When told that Acosta is living at the embassy in New Delhi, Majumdar said: “He can do whatever he wants.”
Ajit Isaac, chairman and managing director of Quess Corp, said: “We have nothing to do with the club so I am not taking any questions on this.”
After weeks of efforts, the Costa Rican embassy had helped Acosta with the logistics to reach New Delhi, Rodriguez said. “He is sleeping at the embassy now and will take a flight back home on Saturday hopefully. The embassy helped with all the logistics but Johnny paid for everything,” Rodriguez said.
Asked about the player’s next step, Rodriguez said: “The main focus for us is to bring Johnny home. He has not received his payment for two months, so most likely we are going to go to FIFA to fight it there. Our lawyers will take care of that.”