Even before the bids were submitted, the fight for Kolkata franchise was billed as a face-off between King Khan and the Prince of Kolkata. As it turns out, Sourav Ganguly ended Shah Rukh Khan’s hopes of expanding the Knight Riders franchise beyond cricket after he acquired the Kolkata franchise of the Indian Super League (ISL).
The former India captain won the bid by forming a consortium with Spanish League giants Atletico Madrid and businessmen Harshavardhan Neotia, Sanjeev Goenka and Utsav Parekh. Atletico have thus become the first international club to directly own a team in India. Ganguly said he will soon hold talks with Atletico officials to chalk out their plans and would explore the possibility of availing the services of their reserve team players.
The Spanish connection
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“I know some people from Atletico Madrid and approached them. They were very interested. We will meet with the Atletico Madrid officials very soon to chalk out our plans,” Ganguly told The Indian Express. “Whether we could have some of their (reserve) players, how they could support the team with their strong academy system — these details need to be finalised. I’m excited about the whole project.”
Atletico have enhanced their reputation as one of the giants of Spanish and European football this season. Managed by Diego Simeone, Atleti — as they are called — are the favourites to end city rivals Real Madrid and reigning champions Barcelona’s dominance in the Spanish League. They also advanced to the semifinals of the Champions League at the expense of the Catalan giants, whom they defeated last Wednesday.
The club’s president Miguel Angel Gil Marin said they want to revolutionize football in India. “I am very excited to have won the Kolkata franchise of the ISL and be the first international team to directly own a club in India. We, along with our Indian Partners, aim to revolutionize football in the country,” Marin said. In fact the team will in Atletico’s traditional colours, red and white.
Kolkata is seen as one of the most important venues by the organisers because of the readily available market for football and the fact that it boasts of the biggest stadium in the country.
Ganguly stressed on forming a fan base but in an already crowded market-space in Kolkata, that might prove to be one of his biggest challenges. Three clubs — Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting — enjoy maximum support in the football-mad city.
The 41-year-old, however, sounded bullish about his venture.
“It’s just the beginning but a very positive approach has been taken as far as Indian football is concerned. We’ve to see how it shapes up, so it’s too early to say if it will become the mainstream football in India in the near future. But the whole project offers enough opportunity, though it would be imperative to create a strong fan base for all franchises. Football thrives in fans’ support,” he said.