Besides the former India captain, Sanjiv Goenka, Harshavardhan Neotia, Utsav Parekh and Atletico de Madrid are the co-owners.
Q Now that the team, of which you’re a co-owner, has touched down, what are your feelings?
A I come from the world of sport, so I’m not excited in the sense somebody from outside sport would probably be. But, yes, I’m looking forward to an attractive brand of football.
You’re the face of Atletico de Kolkata...
Not the only face, please... At the end of the day, the players will take over. They’re the ones who have to galvanise support, thrill the fans... The sport has to take centre stage, not the co-owners.
Having played for cricket teams almost all your life, what’s it like to co-own a football team?
Co-owning a football team is like captaining in cricket... You have to take decisions and you have to back them... Actually, co-owning a team is tougher than captaining, because you can’t yourself take the field and try to make a difference. As captain, I could score hundreds. As a co-owner, I can’t score goals.
What got you involved in the ISL?
Passion for sport, for something associated with Calcutta, something big... Also, during the Champions Trophy (in England) last year, I got a call from Mrs Nita Ambani, who said I must become a part of the ISL. Things began to fall in place after I got back home and we bid for the city franchise.
[Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance is co-promoting the ISL.]
How much of a say will the co-owners have in the way the team is run?
Our job is to put a structure in place and to market the team. As for football matters, coach Antonio Lopez Habas has the complete say. The roles, clearly, are demarcated and we know where we stand.
Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli are also co-owners of other teams in the ISL. Have the three of you ever talked football?
I’ve certainly had discussions on football with Sachin... In fact, on the 2002 tour of England, we watched quite a few of the World Cup matches together... Virat’s much younger... I haven’t talked football with him.
What drives celebrities to co-own teams, be it in cricket or football or even kabaddi?
Look, sport excites... I guess it’s easier for film stars to own teams than for cricketers to act! They can cross over the fence, we can’t.
None of the marquee players are currently playing at the international level. Will they then be motivated enough to deliver and justify the hype?
This is just the beginning and, depending on the success of the ISL, the market will open up... Right now, nobody is sure what’s going to happen. Then, there are Fifa rules which have to be respected. Of course, everybody would like the present-day stars from the EPL and the La Liga to feature in the ISL.
What expectations do you have from 35-year-old Luis Garcia, the marquee player of your team?
I’m confident Garcia will unleash quality football. I have high expectations. I’m looking forward to meeting him.
Have you assessed the other teams?
No, but I’m aware that Alessandro del Piero is Delhi’s marquee player and that Nicolas Anelka will turn out for Mumbai.
Could they draw crowds on a regular basis?
They will, I suppose.
Will Atletico de Kolkata’s brand of football represent something in particular?
Hopefully, it will be the brand that fans want to see... The type of football to attract thousands to the ground. Sport is, after all, for fans.
Recently, the AIFF made it clear that the I-League remains its priority... Isn’t the field becoming rather cluttered with too many leagues/tournaments?
Well, the success or otherwise of the ISL will determine which league/tournament stands where... Who is No.1 or No.2 or No.3... Personally, I believe there’s space for the ISL, the I-League and the Federation Cup.
The last one... You’re wearing many hats. How do you intend doing justice to the different roles?
There’s a team of successful men in everything I’m involved with... At the Cricket Association of Bengal, in the ISL, my educational project... I’m comfortable handling the ‘portfolios’ I hold... I’ve got into everything consciously.
The Telegraph, Calcutta
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