At ATK, former Bagan coach recalls difficult times
Sen was Mohun Bagan head coach from December 2014 to January 2018. Under him, Mohun Bagan won their only I-League title --- in 2014-15 --- and the 2015-16 Federation Cup.Updated: Jan 17, 2020 23:23 IST
It’s been over two years but early in the conversation, Sanjoy Sen spoke of the sense of dread he would feel on the 15th of every month.
“That was when footballers were supposed to be paid and I would panic at the thought of meeting them at training. ‘Coach, do you have an update,’ they would ask,” said Sen on Friday.
Sen was with Mohun Bagan then. He is with ATK now.
“Mohun Bagan always cleared dues but I could see what a struggle it was. So, regarding players’ salaries, this is a very positive development,” said Sen, one day after Mohun Bagan and ATK announced they would form a new club from June 1, 2020.
To be named ATK-Mohun Bagan, it will play in the Indian Super League (ISL) from next season.
“I don’t know how much ATK will benefit but Mohun Bagan will. History and massive fan base they always had but now the football team will be run professionally. Credit to Mr Sanjiv Goenka for doing this,” said Sen.
Sen was Mohun Bagan head coach from December 2014 to January 2018. Under him, Mohun Bagan won their only I-League title --- in 2014-15 --- and the 2015-16 Federation Cup. In the 2015-16 I-League, Mohun Bagan finished second to champions Bengaluru FC by two points. On his watch, Mohun Bagan became the first Indian team to win a round in the Asian Champions League qualifiers when they beat Tampines Rovers 3-1 in January 2016.
At the time Mohun Bagan did not have a video analyst possibly because of funds possibly did not permit one, said Sen.
Sen quit in January 2018 after Mohun Bagan lost 1-2 to Chennai City FC. Three days later, he was called by Goenka, chairman of the RPSG Group which owns ATK. “It was strange because I had been critical of the ISL,” said Sen, referring to his columns in a Bengali daily.
Sen was appointed head of youth development at ATK on January 12, 2018.
“In six years, ATK has three age-specific teams and a reserve team. (Centre-back) Sumit Rathi was spotted by our scouts and even though he is 18, he is a key player in our first team now. Every team has a video analyst,” he said. Rathi has started in ATK’s last four games ahead of India central defender Anas Edathodika.
ATK’s reserve team played in the I-League second division last season. They also have a team in the Kolkata league which qualified to one division below the top tier in 2019 having won promotion in both seasons they have played. Following the merger, the future of that ATK team is unclear.
Playing for an ISL franchise can insulate players from virulent reaction of fans Mohun Bagan and East Bengal players and support staff are often exposed to. “They may not be used to the occasional hostility of fans here but most foreigners in the ISL have played on a bigger stage. Local players (at ATK-Mohun Bagan) will have to step up to help them deal with it,” said Sen.
Asked about it on Friday, Goenka said: “We will deal with it when it happens. After taking over CESC (the company that provides electricity to most of Kolkata) I had to deal with a hostile situation.”
The “fusion” of two big teams is good news for ATK, said assistant-coach Manuel Cascallena ahead of Saturday’s top-table ISL tie against FC Goa here. “I think it is great for the city and the teams,” said central defender Agustin Garcia.
The teams have invited each other for the weekend’s games at the Salt Lake stadium. “Of course, we will support Mohun Bagan (against East Bengal in the I-League) on Sunday,” said Cascallena.