The city of Kolkata has always enjoyed a special place when it comes to Indian Football. Two of the countries most famous and most prestigious clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal United come from the famed city. It was no wonder that there would, eventually be a Club from the city as a representative in the Indian Soccer League. Atletico de Kolkata, the name inspired by their Spanish counterparts and co owners Atletico de Madrid, has been chosen as the representatives of the footballing city into the ISL.
Atleticode Kolkata is owned by Kolkata Games and Sports comprising of the heavyweight consortium of former Indian Captain Sourav Ganguly, Utsav Pareksh of SMIFS Capital Market, Sanjive Goenka of Goenka Group, Harshvardhan Neotia of Ambuja Neotia Group and their Spanish partners and La Liga Champions Atletico de Madrid. The club will have its home ground at the famous Salt Lake City stadium which has a capacity of more than a 120,000. The newly founded club will be ably supported by the government of west Bengal to upgrade and develop the infrastructure that will be at par with international standards. The co owners have also come out and stated that the franchise will be active in their initiatives throughout the year, though the ISL season lasts only for two and a half months. the club owners delivering on their so called promises have already started negotiations and dealing with some of the legends to grace the beautiful game. The signing of Luis Garcia as their marquee player, clearly shows that the club means business and is in for a long run.
Luis Garcia has been one of the most famed hard working attacking mid fielders ever to grace the game. The player who is hailed as the marquee signing as per the AIFF norms ,reached the pinnacle of his career with Liverpool, under which he won the Champions League. The former Liverpool and Atletico Madrid midfielder last plied his trade for Pumas in Mexico, moreover he has scored the infamous ‘ghost goal’ against Chelsea. All in all, the player has bagged 257 appearances spread over England and Spain, scoring 50 goals and winning the much coveted Champions League and the FA cup. Associated with Atletico Madrid it is evident that Garcia, can and will be one of the pillars in the Atletico De Kolkata side, and perhaps even lead them to a trophy in their maiden campaign.
Apart from Garcia, the club has also signed a marquee manager in the form of Antonio Lopez Habas. Antonio Lopez Habas has more than 20 years of experiences in about 16 clubs. The 57 year old has also been the manager of the Bolivian National Team and has experience in managing clubs like Sporting Gijon and Valencia. Habas is probably one of the managers with extensive knowledge and understanding of the game, his career spread over 16 countries speaks that he is well versed with the tactical scenarios and has the experience to build a title winning squad.
Moreover, the appointment of Jose Barreto adds to the Indian pedigree and the Indian ‘way of football’. The Brazilian is a legend in Kolkata and has won almost every domestic trophy with Mohun Bagan in a career spreading over 11 years divided in two spells. Barreto is well versed with the Indian players and will play a key role in selecting the domestic players for the club. Barreto will be playing a crucial role in providing insights and technicalities to Habas. The two together with more than 30 years of experience between them make a formidable partnership which is needed to establish the club and get it up and running.
Borja Fernández is also one of the Spaniards in the contingent. Operating as a Defensive midfielder, Fernández is a Real Madrid Castilla product and has played two seasons with the senior team (2003-2005). Borja went on to play for Mallorca, Real Valladolid and Getafe in two spells either side of a season with Deportivo La Coruna. Borja Fernández adds to the defensive side of the game which will benefit the club and serve alongside Ofentse Nato. Nato has played under Habas at Wits, so there will be an existing mutual understanding between the coach and the player, as to how to operate and how to function in the midfield region.
Football has already started emerging as the next big thing in India. In a city that breathes football, it is a lot easier to establish a firm fan base, plus the commitment of Sourav Ganguly adds to the pooling in even from the cricket community. Ganguly who loves the sport and is very well known for his love of football, will be one of the star attractions of a team that aims to include some of the legends of the footballing community. It is evident that he is bound to attract a larger based audience from the the East side of the country with its mix of international influence and Kolkata, as the epicentre of it all.
“Our Club will try and bring together the best talent to form a team with the driving thought of ‘playing to win’. Kolkata has been central to football in our country and our objective is to ensure that we regain that position.”
The quote clearly reflects what the former Indian captain is trying to build and what he wants to achieve in the distant future. With the inclusion of Ganguly, the newly found franchise has also started to build one of the most important ingredient and the most vital factor, Fans. The club has already started building it’s fan base, with a lot of support coming from the city itself. The newly founded club has also found likeness from all parts and cities of the countries. It was clearly evident that most of the born-and-brought-up people will support their native team, but with Kolkata there was a catch. Kolkata plays host to one of the biggest derbies in the world “the Bengal derby”, dividing the city into two parts. But Atletico de Kolkata also provides a vantage point in a city much shattered and bruised by one of the biggest derbies in the world between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal United. The club offers a ‘safe passage’ to both the supporters involved in the derby.
In Atletico de Kolkata, not only has the city found a common uniting point, but has perhaps found the peace and the passion to support the great city of Kolkata, united and collectively as a force. It is quite evident that almost all, be it the Mohun Bagan supporters or the East Bengal United supporters will be together in cheering for the franchise. The logo of the ‘flying’ Royal Bengal tiger has also touched the sentiments of the fans and perhaps with the start of a new beginning as both sets of fans will stand united under the flying logo of the Bengal Tiger.
Atletico de Madrid has offered a new doorway to define football in Kolkata. With the facilities and international sponsor and partners at hand, it is an ideal platform to develop youngsters and under proper guidance turn them into world class players. The team is already comprising of a experienced player and a manager who will lay the foundations of the club in the the new season. The situation still remains unclear as the majority of the players has not been signed, but the signings and the manager at hand clearly indicate that the club will carry out their game plan in a much ‘Spanish way’. The city has already many expectations from the newly found franchise and with the club jumping into negotiations earlier than most Clubs it is certain that the Kolkata based club will be one of the powerhouses in the ISL and perhaps be one of the major title contenders in upcoming season.
Written by Guest Author Joseph Solomon