ATLETICO DE KOLKATA are planning to play a few friendly matches in the run-up to their ISL campaingn. After they come back from their 3-week practice camp in Spain, the defending champions want to prepare for their title defence by playing high-profile opponents in friendly matches across West Bengal.
Like last year, ATK will kick off their pre-season efforts at Madrid, using the training facilities of their sister club, La Liga giants Atletico de Madrid. The team is expected to leave on 25th August, and return on 16th September. They plan to play their first friendly match within a week, at the Kanchenjunga Stadium at Siliguri.
This will be excellent news for fans in North Bengal who are crazy about football but hardly get to see quality matches taking place in the region. The Kanchenhjunga Stadium, sporting excellent facilities and a great grass pitch, does not house an I-League club but regularly hosts I-League 2nd division matches. Matches featuring the Indian national team have drawn capacity crowd to this 35,000 seater arena. Similar enthusism was seen when the ground played host to Federation Cup in 2012.
According to this article published in Ananda Bazar Patrika, ATK head coach Antonio Habas wants to play at least two friendly matches before the ISL kicks off on 3rd October. For the team management, this is an opportunity to take their brand to the farthest corners of the region. To make sure there is enough hype around these matches, they are talking to Nepal and Malaysia as possible opponents; and some other teams also may be in talks.
This will be the first time Atletico de Kolkata will arrange their own matches out of the city. But the initiative will undoubtedly endear them to their numerous fans in the districts.
Even though ATK saw high turnout in their home matches during the inaugural ISL, their fanbase still mostly consists of East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting fans. With growing indications of the ISL and I-League heading towards a unification in the future, ATK must build their own loyal fanbase if they are to remain popular as opponents to these old Kolkata clubs. These friendly matches will go a long way towards helping them leave a lasting imrpession in the minds of the football lovers across the state.