Sourav Ganguly: ATK-Mohun Bagan a fantastic collaboration for football

ATK FC co-owner and Indian cricket legend Sourav Ganguly feels ATK and Mohun Bagan coming together to play in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) from next season is a positive step forward in Indian football and expressed his desire to see East Bengal, Mohun Bagan’s traditional rivals for almost a 100 years, follow the trend and enter the Hero ISL fray sooner rather than later.

For the uninitiated, the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group (RPSG), the entity which owns and runs ATK, recently announced the acquisition of majority stakes in Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan football club. It was also announced that ATK and Bagan, from next season, will compete in the Hero ISL and other All India Football Federation (AIFF) conducted competitions as a merged identity. Ganguly, being closely associated with both sides, will be a key stakeholder of the historic union.

ATK-Mohun Bagan big for Bengal football

In a recent interview with the indiansuperleague.com, Ganguly shared his take on the move and stated, “It’s a big combination in football. I think with Mohun Bagan getting on board, they bring a massive fan following which will attach to the team ATK-Mohun Bagan. It’s going to be a fantastic collaboration for the development of football because what ATK FC brings, is its professionalism, different levels of coaching both at the grassroot level, at the senior level. Mohun Bagan brings in the support, the fan following, quality footballers. I think when all gets gelled together with the right mindset, it is a big thing for Bengal football.”

Delving into his personal connect with Bagan, Ganguly added, “I’ve played for Mohun Bagan a lot during my cricketing career. I think I’ve played almost eight or nine years for Mohun Bagan. Watched them closely in football. Before cricket became so popular, Kolkata was always a football city. It’s a great association, ATK and Mohun Bagan. It’s going to fill the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan to full capacity. I think it’s a great thing for football.”

Hope East Bengal follows…

In Indian and Bengal football, however, any mention of traditional behemoths Bagan is perhaps incomplete without East Bengal, their city rivals. The two have shared a rivalry, transcending the football pitch and time itself, with the famed Kolkata derby often finding a mention alongside the biggest rivalries in world football.

Very much tuned into the sentiment, the Prince of Kolkata noted, “Mohun Bagan have a massive fan following just like East Bengal. I know I’m jumping the gun, but hopefully East Bengal also starts playing in the Hero ISL sooner than later. I think it’ll be a great thing for football. You cannot think about football without Mohun Bagan or East Bengal. So, one is already on board and hopefully, as I said, the second one will follow soon.”

On ATK’s title chances in Hero ISL 2019-20

Coming back to the ongoing Hero ISL 2019-20, ATK have firmly established themselves as one of the top contenders for the title after some scintillating performances under head coach Antonio Lopez Habas. Addressing the team’s title chances this season, Ganguly opined, “ATK are a very strong side this year. We had taken a little dip over the last two seasons, but with Habas back, (we can get back up there). I’m a big fan of Habas. First two years he was with us. We won the title in the first year and went to the semi-finals in the next year. We actually did not want him to leave. It’s great to have him back. He’s a fighter, a competitor. His heart is at the right place, and ATK is very happy to have Habas back.”

“We are a very strong side with the right selection of overseas players and hopefully we can go till the end. David Williams is injured at the moment and hopefully he gets fit very soon. Roy Krishna has stamped his authority this Hero ISL, much like Iain Hume and others in the different clubs. Hopefully, he, along with the other members, can take the team till the end. It’s an opportunity for us to win the trophy again. But it’s a long way away. We have to qualify for the semi-finals first, then next hurdle will be taken into account,” he added.

One prominent feature in the ATK side this season has been the involvement of local players from Bengal. The likes of Arindam Bhattacharja, Prabir Das and Pritam Kotal have constituted the core of Habas’ playing XIs this season and have performed brilliantly. “The local boys play a big role for ATK. I think it’s not just about the football, it’s about development of Indian football and I think these young players, when they play with the best, you realise how good you can be. I think that’s where the difference will lie and hopefully, we can go to the next level,” Ganguly remarked recognizing the impact of the local boys in the squad.

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