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The Atletico CEO conisders the franchise as opportunity to build up grassroots in India

Ángel Gil Marin: Football was never high on India’s priorities

The Atletico CEO conisders the franchise as opportunity to build up grassroots in India / Shinichiro Ema

The Atletico Madrid CEO stressed that the scheduling for ISL was right

Atlético de Kolkata, which is owned by a conglomerate compromising of some heavyweight names like Sourav Ganguly, Sanjiv Goenka, Harshavardhan Neotia and Utsav Parekh, will operate in cooperation with Atletico Madrid to create a strong outlook for Kolkata in the inaugural season of the Indian Super League (ISL).

Atletico Madrid CEO, Angel Gil Marin was especially grateful to Sourav Ganguly, who helped them strike a deal within a few days of discussion as the days for making an official bid were dwindling down.

When Marin was questioned on the events that led the La Liga heavyweights to bid for the Kolkata franchisee, he replied in a very cautious yet excited tone.

“We were studying the Indian football scene when the soccer league opportunity presented itself. It was a combination of things that resulted in Atlético de Madrid taking interest in the Indian soccer league and eventually bidding for the Kolkata franchise.

“Firstly, the sheer population of India, in a country of a billion-odd people, it isn’t impossible to create an internationally competitive team. So in my view, India is underperforming in football considering its potential. That, for us, is an opportunity to do things in our way: build things ground up.

“At the same time, we considered if the Indian Soccer League had a structure at all within which we could build our franchise. We felt it had the basic ingredients to start with, but we understand going forward it may need fine-tuning.

“Now coming to Kolkata, we did our due diligence and realized that people here had a great sense of pride about their football. In our mind, no other franchise in the league could give us the kind of fan following that Kolkata potentially can.

“Then we looked closely at our partners, at their commitment and long-term vision and we are happy to have found these businessmen along with Sourav (Ganguly), who being a sportsperson himself, was very easy to connect with,” he told LiveMint.

Asked about the model of business with which they had decided to pursue the new franchisee, Marin found himself in familiar water and replied with calculated ease, “The whole idea is to import know-how and transfer it for mutual benefit. In certain conditions, you need external help to turn things around. By bringing the know-how into India, we will create for ourselves a fan following.

“We started exploring opportunities like these because we realized that we are deficient in brand awareness, particularly in Asia. And when you look at this continent, you obviously look at India and China. We have some partnerships with academies in China and Thailand, but we realized that is not enough—we need to create more local content.

“But yes, we cannot afford to have operations that generate losses indefinitely. We believe that once we have created a committed support base, we can generate value for our shareholders in many ways—not just through conventional means such as on-ground advertisement and ticket sales.

“It is going to take time to generate shareholder value, and the co-owners of this franchise have just agreed that we are not looking at making any money at all through the first three years. It could even take five years to become profitable. But we will be reviewing our operations from the first year itself.”

Marin was then quizzed if the football philosophy that Atletico employed in the La Liga, would be imbibed into their Kolkata franchisee. He replied in the affirmative and explained, “The philosophy will be the same. We will be conservative when it comes to spending on teams because football is not an exact science and you can’t calculate everything.

“For instance, in 2000, we had the best team in 15 years, but that year we got relegated. Nothing worked for us that year. There’s no point in borrowing heavily to build an expensive team and then losing, say, our stadium because things don’t go according to plan.

“The focus will be on identifying local talent and training local players. Clearly, Sourav will not be the only local content we offer to our fans—there’ll be more on the football ground for them to root for.

“If the regulations permit, the plan is to get one of our coaches to work closely with someone from India to train local players.”

With IMG-Reliance still to provide the roadmap to recruit players as was mentioned his co-owner Neotia a couple of days back, Marin opines that there isn’t a need to rush things.

“They are trying to figure out how best to run the league, and are taking feedback from the franchisees. It is a good approach. I don’t think they need to rush. The league will evolve… for the first few years, there will be scope to do things better,” he said.

Finally, on being asked about the quality of players they hoped to bring in, considering the opening of the ISL schedule coincides with the opening month of leagues around the world, Marin was slightly skeptical. “Players in Europe get only about a month’s break in the whole year. So you would have had the same problem—little less or more—whenever you scheduled the league. That apart, to get European players to play in the Indian summer is not an option. So, in my mind, it isn’t possible to find a better schedule.”