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Why Atletico Madrid is crucial to ATK being consistent in ISL

Atletico Madrid and Atletico de Kolkata’s partnership has delivered one ISL title, two final appearances and a semi-final in three editions of Indian Super League

football Updated: Dec 19, 2016 16:05 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Atletico Madrid and Atletico de Kolkata’s partnership has delivered one ISL title, two final appearances and a semi-final in three editions of Indian Super League.
Atletico Madrid and Atletico de Kolkata’s partnership has delivered one ISL title, two final appearances and a semi-final in three editions of Indian Super League.(SPORTZPICS)

Had Kanpur suited Prithiijit Das, a part of Madrid wouldn’t have been rooting for Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) here on Sunday.

In March 2014, Das, having joined his family business, was struggling with settling-down pangs in Kanpur after over a decade in England during which he worked with former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon. That had helped him network with football officials in Europe. Miguel Angel Marin, the majority stakeholder at Atletico Madrid, was among them.

“I was reading about the Indian Super League (ISL) and reached out to Miguel uncle. I had also reached out to other clubs but while they demanded money upfront, Atletico Madrid showed a desire to invest in India.

“Given that I am from Kolkata, I then called Dada (Sourav Ganguly). He was in Bangladesh on a cricket assignment and though he didn’t know me, Dada asked me to meet the other investors,” Das, the head of South Asia for Atletico Madrid, told HT.

Read | Kerala Blasters face Atletico de Kolkata in Indian Super League grand finale

“All the investors believed in me and agreed to meet Madrid’s officials in Dubai,” said Das. That Atletico Madrid has been growing globally as a brand too helped in the decision, said Alberto Marrero, ATK’s Spanish sports director since July 2015.

Madrid’s control

The partnership has since delivered one ISL title, two final appearances and a semi-final in three editions of ISL. And crucial to that has been Atletico Madrid having a major say in the football side of things.

“We take care of the sports side with our main role being the selection of coaching staff and foreign players,” said Marrero.

Being able to access Atletico Madrid’s network has helped ATK get better value for money in importing players in a competition where each team can field six foreigners in the playing 11. And the coaching staff.

Marrero outlined what they look for in foreign players, most of whom have been from Spain. “We see whether they can help build a good group and whether they have the mentality of a Borja Fernandez (the ATK skipper) who wants to compete in every match. At a club, you need to take control of many things but for me, the group is the most important,” he said.

It was because of the belief in the collective that marquee Helder Postiga stayed with the team last season after being injured in the first match. Another team too had a similar problem once but the player kept to himself, said a former ATK official requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

So far, ATK’s Indian owners have given Atletico Madrid a free run with the technical side of running the club. “How can we forget that ATM (Atletico Madrid) have been doing this for over 100 years and we are just three years old? said an ATK official who didn’t want to be named because he isn’t authorised to speak to the media.

Molina set to stay

When coach Antonio Habas left, Marrero said, “they looked at different former players on our coaching staff and decided that Molina was the best.” The former Spain goalkeeper played 189 matches for Atletico Madrid and was given a one-year deal. Marrero indicated that Molina would be asked to stay. “There aren’t too many clubs in the world that replaces a coach after the team goes to the final,” he said.