FORMER FOOTBALLERS WHO spent many seasons playing in Indian clubs including those in Kolkata have taken to social media to speak out against the demand of exclusivity over the West Bengal capital made by officials of ISL franchise Atletico de Kolkata.
Chima Okorie and Emeka Ezeugo, former Nigerian footballers both of whom have played for major Indian clubs like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting had a discussion on Facebook about recent comments made by ATK majority shareholder Sanjiv Goenka claiming that his team should be the only one from the city playing in the new top division league, and they do not want to have existing top division clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan to be there as competitors.
In a long Facebook post, former striker Chima Okorie laid out his thoughts on the role he thinks ATK, along with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, should play to grow football in West Bengal together.
Two years ago when ATK was allocated to Kolkata after paying a fair amount, I asked one of those big guys in football, '...
Posted by Chima Okorie on Sunday, July 17, 2016
Commenting on that, Emeka Ezeugo, former Nigerian international defender, criticised the territorial tendencies displayed by the ATK franchise,
"Chima Okorie has a cosmopolitan or global outlook to the situation that AIFF created. Football is a global game that thrives on inclusion rather than exclusion. Kolkata and West Bengal has the appetite for even five franchises. Why are people worried?... Football frowns at any form of discrimination or exclusivity."
Chima, however, took a very different view of the situation, and explained why ATK are afraid of directly competing with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan,
"It is not possible that any club can thrive as long as it is Kolkata. The only two clubs that can thrive in Kolkata is Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and maybe, Mohammedan Sporting if they get their acts, together. It is possible because you are born into a Mohun Bagan, East Bengal or Mohammedan tradition. You are born into a tradition and not into a football club... any team pitted against these teams in Kolkata can only afford an existence. History has shown that no club can thrive when they are active. That is why I suggested that for the sake of the development of football, these clubs should sit down and accomodate each other. This is the only way that the economies of football shall be realised in Bengal."
Emeka, however, was hopeful that a team like ATK could stand its own against the popular clubs of Kolkata if they played their cards right,
"What does it take to win the heart of a football fan? It doesn't take rocket science. There are professional efforts and professionals employed to enlarge the fan base and fill up stadiums. And it takes a sports management expert to acknowledge and bring the fitting experts on board and sail away."
When a fan pointed out that 40% of Kolkata's non-Bengali population, who are mostly not attached to any club or footballing tradition, can be targeted by ATK as a potential fanbase, Chima said the Sourav Ganguly co-owned franchise was not going to survive on this group alone,
"If they thought they had a 40% chance of support, why would they be seeking exclusivity, anyway? It is important to note that almost all the functioneries of ATK pay allegiance to one of these two clubs... ATK knew the daunting task ahead before they even contemplated exclucivity. They are very smart business people... the comnercial potential of East Bengal, Mohun Bagan Mohamnedan Sporting was never in doubt. The only reason ATK would want exclusivity is, the potential of these clubs."
Emeka stuck to his point that ATK could ultimately survive as a direct rival of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, as the two century-old clubs are not as competent when it comes to professional management and marketing,
"If people with sports management expertise were in charge of ATK, they will not notice the Kolkata giants as superior competitors at all. Kolkata giants still entertain the richer versions of Paltu Das, Molla, Omar, etc of the 80s and 90s Maidan. The game has moved on. Wrong people feel threats coming right, left and center even when there's no opposition."
To this point, Chima seemed to agree,
"With Sports Management expertise, you can manage to spoil for scraps. Add a bit of football brain and you can manage an [existence] alongside these traditional clubs. This is the power of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan Clubs and they are not [operating] with any Sports Management expertise as yet."
Both players, who have spent a significant part of their playing careers in India, were of the opinion that Atletico de Kolkata could not ask for exclusive rights over the city of Kolkata in an officially recognized top division league.
Commenting on the post, Samik Dhar, an East Bengal fan, said,
"This kind of exclusive right over a city is illegal... it is against the anti competition laws and also it is a contract between IMGR and ATK.. so AIFF is not even a party to the contract... neither are EB and MB..so they are not bound by any such exclusitivity... if EB and MB go to the court... ATK, IMGR and AIFF will have their foot in the mouth.."