Sourav Ganguly welcomes league expansion and plays up the Habas factor for ATK Mohun Bagan

Co-owner of new Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) outfit ATK Mohun Bagan, Sourav Ganguly has heaped praise on the club’s Head Coach Antonio Lopez Habas. The Spaniard has already won the highly-coveted trophy twice with ATK FC, and Ganguly is looking to Habas to deliver another in what will be ATK Mohun Bagan’s maiden campaign.

“It's for the first time that ATK Mohun Bagan will play in the Hero ISL. I hope we have a good season. I'm a big supporter of our coach. I think he's got the passion and heart to win the ISL. He has won it a couple of times already,” said the Indian cricket legend on the latest episode of ‘Let’s Football Live’ ahead of the Hero ISL 2020-21 opener between ATK Mohun Bagan and Kerala Blasters FC on Friday.

And then in what will be the first Kolkata Derby in the history of the Hero ISL, ATK Mohun Bagan will take on SC East Bengal on November 27 at Vasco’s Tilak Maidan Stadium. Speaking about the addition of two powerhouses to the Hero ISL and its impact, Ganguly said, “Good teams actually make a league successful and I think these two teams with their history will make the Hero ISL successful. I'm looking forward to the 27th when ATK Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal [face off], the first derby in the Hero ISL.”

Ganguly is associated with Hero ISL right from its inception, so he is in a good position to analyse the league in terms of the strides it has made. “The quality of the Hero ISL has improved enormously and only the competitiveness of the league will make it a success. The standard of the overseas players has improved. There are some great players around.

“We saw the way Roy Krishna played for ATK FC last season. He was phenomenal. You can see the difference in his ability as a football player and that rubs off on the Indian players. With time, it's only going to improve. India is a big country, and in the coming years even better players will come and play in the ISL. This will be great for Indian Football,” he said.

As many as 11 teams will feature in this year’s competition with 115 mouth-watering games set to be staged across three stadia in Goa. Ganguly is pleased with the expansion of the league so far and believes this is the only way forward for Indian football. “This will happen slowly. We need to enlarge the ISL which will happen in about 10 years. We started from eight in the first season to 11 now and with time it's going to bring [more] interested parties. This is the only way forward for Indian football,” he said.

Strict COVID-19 protocols, including living in a bio-bubble, have been put in place by the league to ensure safety for everyone involved. Ganguly shared his opinion on the matter. “It’s important to remain in the bio bubble and it's not that tough. I'm sure the hotels are on the beach, so you get a breath of fresh air when you start the season. So not just for your sake but for the entire league it's very important to be in the bubble. But the best thing is that they're getting to play the game which they love the most,” he said.

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