Sourav Ganguly: Hero ISL's away fan culture great for Indian football

ATK co-owner and Indian cricket legend Sourav Ganguly feels that the flourishing away fan culture in the Hero ISL has added a new dimension to Indian football and is a great advertisement for the sport in the country. Ganguly also stated that attacking football is the way forward for the two-time Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions ATK, and the team's rebuild for the 2019-20 season is a step in the right direction to realize the goal. ATK finished sixth on the table last season, largely owing to their inability to score enough. To rectify the issue, the team management has been proactive this summer bringing in a host of top attacking talents, highlighted by the arrival of last season's A-League Golden Boot winner Roy Krishna. The Kolkata-based side has also had a change at the helm, with Antonio Lopez Habas - the man behind the side's title win back in 2014 - being reappointed as head coach for the coming season.

In an exclusive interview with indiansuperleague.com, Ganguly took the time to share his thoughts about ATK, Hero ISL's blossoming away fan culture, and more. Here are the excerpts:

How much has the Hero ISL grown over the last five seasons?

It has gotten better and better. The excitement is good. The league (Hero ISL) has expanded from a short season to a long season. I think, this is the pace for football, where you have to give it a little bit more time and hopefully (something) good will happen.

On away fans making the long trips to support their teams in Hero ISL.

It’s about the attachment to the franchise and the team, that is very, very important. I have seen it before. Although they do get outnumbered by the home crowd, it is still a boost for the team travelling. It is a great introduction to football, as when the team travels, the fans travel as well. We see that in cricket and it is good to see that in football as well.

On ATK’s attacking signings in the transfer window.

That has been a problem for the last two years, goalscoring. That is one of the reason, we have picked a lot of attacking players this season. (Antonio Lopez) Habas is back as head coach and that’s the way forward. He wants with the team to play attacking football, score and create winning opportunities. Only when you score goals, that’s when you win. As I said, it’s been a problem area for the last two years which has been addressed.

On fans bonding with ATK in a very short time.

Because the game is very popular in Kolkata. Football belongs to Kolkata. I would want the connect to grow. To be honest, it has dropped a bit in the last few years but hopefully, the connect will increase. It’s a long tournament. It started with two months which kept people closer, which was a compact one, but with the increase in the number of days, obviously, the challenge will be to keep the flock together. Hopefully, we can do that.

ATK are scheduled to play arch-rivals Kerala Blasters FC in the opening match of Hero ISL 2019-20 on October 20 and will be looking to hit the ground running to mark a positive beginning for a fruitful season ahead. After finishing in the top four in each of their first three Hero ISL campaigns, the Kolkata-based side have failed to make the semi-finals in their last two seasons – a trend they would love to curb this term.

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