Former cricketer Sourav Ganguly. (File Photo: IANS). Image Source: IANS News

Kolkata, Jan 26 : ATK co-owner and former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly hopes city soccer giants East Bengal will follow arch-rivals Mohun Bagan and join the Indian Super League (ISL) bandwagon.

Ganguly feels ATK and Mohun Bagan coming together to play in the ISL from next season is a positive step forward in Indian football and expressed his desire to see East Bengal follow the trend and enter the ISL fray sooner rather than later.

"Mohun Bagan have a massive fan following just like East Bengal. I know I'm jumping the gun, but hopefully East Bengal also starts playing in the ISL sooner than later. I think it'll be a great thing for football. You cannot think about football without Mohun Bagan or East Bengal. So, one is already on board and hopefully, as I said, the second one will follow soon," Ganguly told indiansuperleague.com in an interview.

The RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group (RPSG), the entity which owns and runs ATK, recently announced the acquisition of majority stakes in Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan football club.

It was also announced that ATK and Bagan, from next season, will compete in the Hero ISL and other All India Football Federation (AIFF) conducted competitions as a merged identity. Ganguly, being closely associated with both sides, will be a key stakeholder of the historic union.

"It's a big combination in football. I think with Mohun Bagan getting on board, they bring a massive fan following which will attach to the team ATK-Mohun Bagan. It's going to be a fantastic collaboration for the development of football because what ATK FC brings is its professionalism, different levels of coaching, both at the grassroot level, at the senior level.

Mohun Bagan brings in the support, the fan following, quality footballers. I think when all gets gelled together with the right mindset, it is a big thing for Bengal football," the BCCI president said.

Delving into his personal connect with Bagan, Ganguly added: "I've played for Mohun Bagan a lot during my cricketing career. I think I've played almost eight or nine years for Mohun Bagan. Watched them closely in football. Before cricket became so popular, Kolkata was always a football city. It's a great association, ATK and Mohun Bagan. It's going to fill the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan to full capacity. I think it's a great thing for football." Coming back to the ongoing ISL 2019-20, ATK have firmly established themselves as one of the top contenders for the title after some scintillating performances under head coach Antonio Lopez Habas.

Addressing the team's title chances this season, Ganguly opined: "ATK are a very strong side this year. We had taken a little dip over the last two seasons, but with Habas back, (we can get back up there). I'm a big fan of Habas. First two years he was with us. We won the title in the first year and went to the semi-finals in the next year. We actually did not want him to leave. It's great to have him back. He's a fighter, a competitor. His heart is at the right place, and ATK is very happy to have Habas back."

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