The newly-formed entity will make its mark in the next season of the Indian Super League.
It is happening!
The rapidly shifting sands of Indian football today witnessed another watershed moment as an Indian Super League powerhouse joined hands with an I-league giant, in what is sure to be a seismic development for the Indian domestic circuit.
India witnessed the merger of an Indian Super League (ISL) and an I-League club for the first time in history. Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and two-time ISL champions ATK have signed the dotted line and the new entity will come into existence from June 1. This deal has been in the works for some time now and has finally come to fruition.
The merger will see the legacy club earn financial strength and they will participate in the ISL for the first time next season. Mohun Bagan, since they parted ways with McDowells, have been looking for a sponsor, but to no avail. The move will hopefully see the fans of the two clubs warming to the idea of the merged entity in the course of time.
At the moment, ATK are running for the top spot in the ISL, while Mohun Bagan are also gunning for the I-League crown, which will be their fifth national title if they manage to achieve it. In the past, both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal had rejected a move to join the ISL, objecting to the franchise fee of ₹15 crores. ATK had also approached Mohun Bagan’s arch-rivals East Bengal for a similar deal in the past, but the move fell through following early negotiations.
ATK’s financial muscle is going to help Mohun Bagan, while the famed Mohun Bagan Academy that continues to produce and nurture talents, will act as a supply line for the new outfit to produce quality home-grown players. ATK currently play their home games at the Salt Lake Stadium, while Mohun Bagan are currently using the Kalyani Stadium to host their home games.
Interestingly, a group of ATK fans had unfurled a banner reading ‘NO MERGER’ during an ISL game against Kerala Blasters at the Salt Lake Stadium. However, it was forcibly taken down amidst a ruckus.
Watch: ATK-Mohun Bagan Merger Details
Mohun Bagan, a club that call themselves the ‘national’ club of India, was established in 1889. They were the first Indian club to win a domestic competition, lifting the IFA Shield in 1911. Bagan have won the National Football League in 1998, 2000, 2002 and after it was re-branded to I-League, they lifted it again in 2015. They are the record 14-time champions of the Federation Cup, which is now defunct but was at one time, India’s premier cup competition.
On the other hand, ATK are two-time champions of the Indian Super League, winning the inaugural edition in 2014. Mohammed Rafique scored ‘that’ historic goal in the final. After a gap in 2015, they lifted the title again in 2016, defeating Kerala Blasters in the final in a penalty shootout. Along with Chennaiyin FC, ATK are the only other team to have lifted the ISL title twice.
After the acquisition of Mumbai City FC by the City Football Group, this deal proves that Indian football is moving forward. Mumbai City are expected to take big strides next summer, while with this merger, ATK can benefit from the support Mohun Bagan command and stands to gain in several ways. More professionalism will also creep into the system and with the merger, the legacy club will modernize itself.
Both ATK and Mohun Bagan have a Spanish connection. Both, currently, have Spanish bosses at the helm of affairs and there’s a Spanish touch to the way they play. Kibu Vicuna and Antonio Lopez Habas have time and again used the 4-2-3-1 formation, the most orthodox system used in Spain’s LaLiga. For Habas, it has been his preferred style while Vicuna has experimented with 4-3-3 as well.
There’s one man who’d be feeling at home with this news more than anyone else, Sanjoy Sen. The former I-League winning coach for Mohun Bagan is currently working as the assistant head coach at ATK.
Such deals play a massive role in taking Indian football ahead. FSDL stand to benefit as well, as the move can be expected to turn a lot of long-term football fans, who have time and again proved their allegiance to the I-League, towards the ISL. It will be interesting to see what stand the fans take once the next season begins.