The popularity of Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) suffered in ISL3 because of talk about there being more than one club from the city, the team’s principal owner, Sanjiv Goenka, told HT in an interview.
“That has definitely impacted the fan following. In the past, the fans looked at it as a Kolkata team, everyone was united by Atletico de Kolkata. Now, there is no longer that unified feeling. So while the popularity of the league has grown, that of ATK has suffered as a result,” he said.
That has happened since a plan to merge the ISL and the I-League into a competition was floated. There is no clarity yet but it has opened up the possibility of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Atletico de Kolkata competing from Kolkata. Or, two teams if one of Mohun Bagan or East Bengal merge with ATK.
“I don’t know what is going to happen but if my views are sought on this, I’ll say I’m not in favour of two teams from Kolkata,” said Goenka.
The contentious issue of the number of teams from Kolkata aside, Goenka said ATK would do everything to make the league more popular once it gets longer. “We will support the ISL in every which way it is possible. I think IMG-Reliance has done a fantastic job of the league. And, hats off to Nita Ambani. It’s her drive that has taken the ISL to the level where it is,” he said.
What has also impacted ATK this term is the shifting of their stadium from the 65,000 capacity Salt Lake stadium to the one at Rabindra Sarobar which holds around 12,000. The Salt Lake stadium was unavailable because of work to get the stadium ready for the 2017 under-17 World Cup.
“I’ve lost R 3 crore in sponsorship and R 3-4 crore in gate receipts. My total loss is R 15 crore over and above what is projected for this season,” he said.
When conversation shifted to ATK’s performance in ISL3, Goenka said they started the season with an aim to professionalise the club. “And I think we have, more or less, achieved that. It’s all systems and process driven now. I must also convey appreciation for (co-owner) Utsav Parekh who stepped in when, at the start (2014), there was no one.”
“This time there is complete harmony, no politics in the dressing room,” he said. Asked if there was discord in the previous seasons, Goenka said it wouldn’t be fair to go into specifics or name names before adding that in terms of harmony, there could be no comparison between how good things now are as opposed to earlier seasons.
“The discipline is absolutely fantastic. This year, I go into the dressing room after every game, and I get a different sense…that there’s a mission. They are playing for the club. This is the first time I am getting the feeling that the entire team is playing for the club,” he said.